Dan Kendall 00:04
Welcome back to Digital Health Today the place to be to get the insights of leaders making the healthcare of tomorrow, available today. I’m your host, Dan Kendall, and this is a coffee talk. Coffee talks are opportunities to hear directly from the leaders of organizations that make our platform possible, and to keep up to date on the pivots and progress of the evolving digital health ecosystem. Today, I’m really pleased to welcome two executives from Bayer G4A. Bayer G4A has been a longtime sponsor of Digital Health Today, and in this episode, I caught up with Dominick Kennerson. He’s the Global Head of G4A digital health partnerships at Bayer Pharmaceuticals. Also joining is Sophie Park. Sophie is a veteran of this program and the chief strategist for Bayer G4A partnerships.
Dan Kendall 00:48
Dominick and Sophie are both Americans based in Berlin, Germany, and Dom shared a story about how a chance meeting at a bar in Washington DC put him on a path to becoming an executive at a world class pharma company. We also spoke about the impact of Covid 19 on the Bayer organization, and importantly, how it has changed the expectations and opportunities for companies of all sizes who are working to make a dent in health care. Now, earlier this year, Bayer G4A had a call for applications, they’re looking for innovative companies that are ready to make a difference with the support of an important global player. After months of hard work and vetting through all the applicants, they’re about to announce the finalists for this year’s Bayer G4A program. Now while we don’t know the companies they’ve selected at the time of this recording, they will be announced very soon at a global virtual event taking place on Wednesday, November 18 2020. If you’re listening to this episode on or before November 18, scroll down in the show notes and click to register to attend. It’s taking place at 11 AM Eastern time on Wednesday, November 18. You can register on their website at events.G4A.health. If you’re tuning in to this episode on November 19, or later, just scroll down to find the names and links to the companies that have been accepted. You can always find out more about the program by visiting G4A.health. Now without further ado, let’s tune into the conversation with Dominick Kennerson and Sophie Park. Dom. Sophie, thanks so much for joining me.
Sophie Park 02:15
Thanks, Dan. Very happy to be here.
Dominick Kennerson 02:17
Thanks so much, Dan. Really appreciate it.
Dan Kendall 02:19
So Dom, tell us a little bit about your story. Can you give us a little insight about how you came to be where you are and do what you’re doing.
Dominick Kennerson 02:27
Coming to G4A is actually a bit like coming back to my roots, so to say. So I actually started out in digital health about 15 years ago, working for a company in DC called Revolution Health, and Revolution Health was a subsidiary of Revolution, which still exists today. But Revolution Health was a company that was clearly about 10 years ahead of its time. Was founded by a Steve Case, who most people know is that America Online co-founder and of course, he had the whole AOL Time Warner acquisition or merger, you know, back in the late 90s, which was, of course, the precursor to the dot-com boom. So I worked at Revolution for about three years corporate development, and strategic partnerships, and ever since I think I’ve been very close or on the periphery of digital health of some way. Long, very long story short, I kind of found my way to Bayer after a Revolution was acquired, and I found my way through a fellowship program, and actually that fellowship, I met a guy in a bar in DC, and it just kind of launched into this transatlantic kind of a career. So got to Berlin in 2010, we’re actually met some good people at Bayer and support a global advocacy for one of our key drugs, moved back to DC where I get some healthcare, investment banking work. And then my old manager from Bayer said, I have a job for you, you know, do you want to come back to Germany? and without even really knowing what the job was? I just kind of jumped at the opportunity and said, Yes!. So I’ve been with Bayer now for about seven years.
Dan Kendall 03:56
You were mentioning Revolution Health, you use the term digital health. What were you actually calling it back 12, 15 years ago, because it wasn’t digital health.
Dominick Kennerson 04:04
We were actually still calling it digital health, and I promise you we were. This is why I say it was really a company that was 10 to 15 years ahead of its time. I mean, we had a platform and people forget this. I think, you know, we had a platform with 5 million unique visitors in like five months. This was a company the day it launched, it had partnerships with Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, all of the big patient communities or patient advocacy groups like Susan G. Komen, or the American Cancer Society, and so around that time, the big conversation was around personal health records, you know, so Revolution Health, had a personal health record, Google Health, had a personal health record, and then you remember Microsoft health, which was doing something very similar, and yeah, we really talked about it as a digital health kind of a platform for patients. The language I think that we were using this kind of still in the marketplace, some things have changed. You know, so we weren’t talking about AI. We weren’t talking about big data, kind of those opportunities the same way. But from kind of an infrastructure point of view and an opportunity point of view. The business opportunities, I think, are still there. What we see today is really the market validation that has come through, and that wasn’t really the case back then.
Dan Kendall 05:23
So before we started recording, we were talking about the polite things you talked about in conversation in terms of the weather, and of course, COVID. So this is dominating the headlines still today, eight months later, after it first reared its ugly head, I know that you guys are not involved in vaccine development. But this has affected all companies and all people in some way, shape or form. So what are some of the things that you guys have seen within Bayer that you’ve either had to adapt to, or that you’re learning from as you go into the year ahead?
Dominick Kennerson 05:54
Yeah, for 150 plus year old German company. COVID, has been really quite interesting, and I think as a company, we really started getting involved late last year, actually, when this was mostly seen as a public health issue in China before it kind of spread to the rest of the world. So late last year, you know, and I think one of the better products that you’ve seen in headlines, it’s actually Chloroquine. So that’s actually a Bayer invention, and so you know, very early on, we were making donations for these tablets on this malaria drug in China, and then it kind of happened rest of world, of course, we’ve been making in kind donations, what it’s meant for our daily work. I mean, almost overnight, I think, especially by March, some of the I think what some people would call archaic policies in our organization, may be changed overnight, especially the work from home policy, and just how people approach business, I think people are a lot more fluid, people are a lot more connected, you know, throughout our entire enterprise. And then I think what we’ve seen from a G4A perspective is we really have seen the companies in our portfolio, reach out and try to reconnect, mostly because they are experiencing what the rest of the market is experiencing. So you know, they’re setting themselves up for fundraisers for growth. They’re also seeing market validation, some have also been challenged with trying to convert or to switch to remote monitoring for for some of their trials. So I think there have been a number of kind of different market opportunities that have happened both inside the company and with our portfolio companies.
Dan Kendall 07:41
Yeah, Sophie, while all this is going on in the environment, you’re tasked with growing the G4A applications and preparing the next round of startups for the G4A program. So I want to come on to what you guys have done and some of the things that are upcoming on the horizon. But how has this changed the sort of dynamic in terms of what you guys are looking for? And also what startups are looking for and what they’re prepared to do as they think about travel restrictions or relocation, things like that. So can you explain how both you’ve changed the organization? And also what your feedback is, from what the industry, the startup industry is feeding back to you?
Sophie Park 08:18
Yeah, absolutely. So you know, what we tried to do was, we pivoted into the different challenges that we have this year and really focused on, you know, the cardio metabolic disease areas, we looked into finding companies that really drive digital solutions and offer, you know, people support varying from, you know, disease management, to preventative, to remote monitoring, and so really, we tried to transform this program to support what’s what’s happening now, because we see the huge gaps, right that healthcare currently has, and that there really is a lot more work to be done.
Dan Kendall 09:02
How’s the response been from the industry? Are there a lot of companies that are saying, Yeah, we’re ready, and we know that we can make a difference here and raise their voices to be a part of G4A.
Dominick Kennerson 09:12
Huge leap. So I mean, I think, you know, again, the market validation aspect that we’ve seen, when big bankers or big banks see the market up, kind of validation from a you know, the IPOs. I think in one week, we had two or three IPOs. I mean, that’s unprecedented. So we all of a sudden have a long list of precedent transactions. We have a number of deal mechanics that can be worked off of, a
nd that kind of market validation sends ripples throughout the marketplace, especially a marketplace that’s looking for value in areas that are going to be high growth over the next 18 months to two years, and I think healthcare is really in that sweet spot. So for our companies, they are kind of seeing the same when I think they’re also trying to navigate you know how to actually capture that when you know, so they’re trying to open the cell, so to say. But those opportunities are absolutely there, we’re trying to do our best to support them in that way.
Sophie Park 10:10
Yeah. 100%. And I think, you know, Dom spoke on behalf of our portfolio companies. So what we’ve seen so far, coming in from all over the world, I mean, you know, this is the time for digital health, where we are not given a choice, whether or not we want to use technology. I mean, this is the time where the world said you have to use it, you know, what do you do when you cannot go in to doctors offices for months at a time,. It’s time for people to embrace digital technology and to drive the solutions forward. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen from a lot of the applications that we received, and all these companies that we received applications from had investors, you know, they were not just MVP or prototypes. I mean, these are actual companies that were ready to scale ready to commercialize with Bayer. So we’re very excited about that.
Dan Kendall 11:10
So you’ve no doubt had to make some tweaks to your program. I know last year, I was able to visit there in Berlin and participate in your Signing Day, which was fantastic. I mean, the production, the connections, the people in the room, I mean, from the food to the the conversations on keto, the fireside chat that was happening on stage and all the presentations from all the startups, it was a great day, I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with you there. But obviously, that’s not happening this year. So what sort of changes have you made in terms of how you’re resourcing and supporting these companies that you’ve selected, but also announcing them to the world, we’re not all going to come to Berlin and have a big signing day. What are you going to do instead?
Sophie Park 11:48
I mean, you’ve been to our signing day before and, you know, how do you virtualize what happened last year. And for those of you who don’t know, you know, we, we usually announce all of our, you know, finalists, companies on stage, and, you know, they give their pitch, and we really celebrate digital health that day. But given the current climate and what’s happening in the world, you know, we thought it was really important to not only discuss what integrated digital health really means and the solutions out there, but we wanted to make it accessible to the world. Because digital health is here to stay. And that was very, very clear from you know, not only the marketplace, but also the maturity of the companies that are coming in, but also how, you know, G4A and Bayer has pivoted to really drive these digital solutions right into the marketplace. So you can go to events.G4A.health, we have a full agenda there. But we really wanted to focus the topics around what are the digital health solutions and the marketplace? What’s happening now, what’s being invested into? And really, not only that, but focusing on the health inequities, right? The accessibility, especially, you know, now sustainability, right? How do we create a more accessible, more sustainable, more equitable health care system because it’s clearly broken. And we need and we’re trying to show that we could do that to some level, we can fix it to some level with digital health solutions. And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about.
Dan Kendall 13:41
So your signing day in Berlin has been replaced with a virtual digital health form. As you mentioned, people can go to events.G4A.health, we’ll have a link to that in the show notes of this. I’m sure you also find it across our social media feeds. I look forward to participating what can people expect when they register and sign on for that?
Sophie Park 13:59
So we’re actually releasing our panels exactly at that time. So that’s 5pm, Central European Time for us. But what’s also very exciting is, you know, I don’t think any conference in digital health in the world has ever had an entire Executive Committee of a pharmaceutical company sitting down at a round table talking about the future of digital health. And we actually have all of our leadership members who will be speaking on this panel, which I’m really excited about to and it really shows that, you know, we as bear and gioffre are very serious about, you know, scaling digital health solutions, and that it’s really needed in this in this day and age.
Sophie Park 14:46
And as I mentioned, you know, we’ll have a investors panel, we have another panel that will be focusing on investing right for a pandemic resilient future and and we’ve seen when COVID started, I think, but when it started, a lot of forecasters were saying, you know, what’s going to happen to digital health? You know, a lot of people had their doubts, right. But now we’re seeing record amounts of investments, we’re seeing record amounts of actually IPOs that are potentially happening this year, or will happen very soon. And not only that, but also patient approved tech, we’re having amazing people come in for that panel, CEO of OneDrop, Jeff dacus, and also our wonderful patient community and founder of a patient organization and journalist, Amy, who will be having a very candid conversation on, you know, how do we start creating technology that is that that’s made for patients, right.
Sophie Park 15:53
And not only that, but we’ll have women’s health topics, right? I know, this whole Femtech revolution happened, you know, a year or two ago, and then I kind of plateaued, but now we’re seeing even more data driven solutions to support women and that aspect. And most important, last but not the least, I would say it’s the most important, but it’s really health for all right, and equity and access discussion that we’ll be having with leaders around the world, focusing on, you know, the social determinants of health, which is an integral part of driving a sustainable, accessible and equitable health system. So I’m really excited.
Dan Kendall 16:39
One of the things you touched on, I just wanted to double click on is around the patient involvement that you have. And I know that you guys have always involved patients in this program in some way, shape, or form. But I again, in the idea of adapting and pivoting and improving the G4A program, you’ve actually expanded and adapted the patient role going forward for these companies that you’ve selected. Can you tell us about that? Yeah. So
Sophie Park 17:03
in the past years, we’ve actually, as you mentioned, had a patient panel who selected the finalists, companies that would come into the program. However, this year, you know, we wanted to actually integrate the patient voice into actually coaching some of our companies that come in. And so what we’re actually doing is, hopefully, we’ll have a patient committee, who will be there to really be a sounding board, actually, consistently throughout our program. So we’re super excited about that.
Dan Kendall 17:37
Brilliant. So again, reminder, for everyone who’s listening, it’s November 18. You can find out more by going to events.G4A.health, it’s free to register. It’s at 11AM, eastern standard time and 5pm in Central Europe. Look forward to participating in it myself. And hopefully soon you all there, Sophie, Dom, thanks so much for joining me. Best of luck on November 18. I can’t wait to hear the companies that you’ve selected. And thanks so much for all the support that you guys have given to the digital health community at large. You guys have been real pioneers, both as an organization but it really comes down to the people who are driving it, Dom, we’re thrilled that you’re there in place. And Sophie, glad that you’re there to continue the evolution and development of this program. So thanks very much for being on the program for your support of Digital Health Today.
Sophie Park and Dominick Kennerson