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These startups aim to help cancer patients beyond the oncology ward

Jasper Health raises $25 million as cancer patients demand a better quality of life.

These startups aim to help cancer patients beyond the oncology ward
[Photo: Marko Geber/Getty Images]

This year for his birthday, Carmen Draper, 58, got some unwelcome news: His 31-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer. “It had already moved to her lymph nodes,” he explains. That was in late October, and by Thanksgiving she was in her second week of chemotherapy. During five weeks of treatment that included both chemotherapy and radiation she became extremely dehydrated and worn down.

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“They have to almost kill you to save your life,” Draper says. His daughter, who homeschools her children, wanted to keep up her kids’ routine, but needed help. She set up a shareable appointment calendar on Jasper Health so that her family and friends could help coordinate travel and childcare while she was in treatment. “I get notifications of every single appointment, which is so helpful to me,” Draper says. “I know what time and I know what doctor and I know where.”

Jasper Health is part of a wave of startups that hope to expand the notion of what cancer care is. The platform offers care management and a library of resources on everything from how to handle side effects to financial planning. The company has just raised $25 million from General Catalyst, Human Capital, W Health Ventures, Redesign Health, and 7wireVentures. The investment represents a trend in healthcare to help cancer patients handle symptoms, side effects, depression, diet, their appointment calendar, and even how they plan to finance their care.

“A lot of cancer patients, cancer survivors, and caregivers of cancer survivors find that getting cancer care in a very fragmented healthcare system is difficult,” says oncologist Lidia Schapira, director of the Cancer Survivorship Program at the Stanford Cancer Institute. “I think there’s a real interest, and a legitimate one, in finding ways of self-managing many of the aspects of a chronic illness like cancer.” Cancer patients not only have to manage the effects of their disease, but also the effects of the treatment. Chemotherapy has notoriously adverse side effects. She sees more investment going into behavioral health services such as mindfulness, meditation, acupuncture, and even cancer-focused mental health therapy. But the number-one interest in the U.S., she says, is nutrition.

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[pullquote]These startups are equipping patients with more information than they can reasonably get from googling.[/pullquote]Some cancer centers, like Memorial Sloan Kettering, may provide nutrition coaches for patients, but many facilities don’t have that specialty. Faeth Therapeutics, which raised $20 million in a round led by Khosla Ventures and Future Ventures, is researching how a more precise approach to nutrition can help make cancer treatments more effective. The founding doctors include cancer luminaries Lew Cantley, director of the Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, Karen Vousden, Francis Crick Institute’s chief scientist of Cancer Research in the U.K., and Siddhartha Mukherjee, oncologist at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center and author of The Emperor of All Maladies.

Other cancer-care startups see an opportunity to get patients supplementary services, like nutrition counseling, through care coordination. Ianacare and Lots of Helping Hands use a calendar system to help patients get support from family members and friends. The former, which recently raised $12 million, works with employers, health plans, and caregivers to ensure that patients are utilizing all the resources at their disposal.

Jasper Health started out as just a calendar, but is using this round of funding to build out a telehealth care coordination platform. “We have our own care team, care advocates who help patients via a chat and video telemedicine experience on things like diet, nutrition, medication adherence, and reducing anxiety and stress,” says CEO Adam Pellegrini, who previously held leadership roles in digital health at Walgreens, CVS, and Fitbit. The goal is to recommend services, educational materials, and clinicians that can help cancer patients supplement their main cancer care. There are currently 12,000 patients using the platform, and the company is developing relationships with insurers and health systems. “We only get paid if we keep the members engaged,” Pellegrini says.

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Thyme Care, which raised $22 million led by Andreessen Horowitz, AlleyCorp, and Frist Cressey Ventures last October, takes a similar approach to cancer coordination. It relies on nurses to make recommendations for how to manage care outside of the doctor’s office. It also provides coordination tools for caregivers.

Alula, which is supported by Chelsea Clinton’s Metrodora Ventures, has yet another angle on cancer care. “We are really focusing on side-effect management,” says founder and CEO Liya Shuster-Bier, herself a cancer survivor. Alula’s main offering is its marketplace, which supplies items you might never think to buy unless you’ve had cancer: shirts with chemo-port access, Biotène for mouth dryness, and incontinence starter kits. The company is currently testing Alula On Call, a guided personalized shopping service that can help patients determine the products they need. Shuster-Bier says that eventually these personal shoppers will able to help patients advocate for themselves with their doctors. This might include educating them on what medicines to ask their doctors about in order to better relieve symptoms.

None of these platforms diagnose or offer medical advice. But by equipping patients with more information than they can reasonably get from googling, they may make a difficult time more manageable.

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About the author

Ruth Reader is a writer for Fast Company. She covers the intersection of health and technology.

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