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Three years after it launched a bio fund, venture firm Andreessen Horowitz is finding opportunities in what general partner Vijay Pande calls "dark data."
The siloed nature of medical records means that valuable data often remain hidden from doctors, researchers and patients, making it difficult for people to get the targeted care they need at the most critical times.
For his latest bet, Pande is backing former Apple executive Anil Sethi, who has spent his career trying to unlock patients' health data from clunky electronic medical record systems and get it easily into the hands of those who most need it.
Sethi is the founder of Ciitizen, an early-stage start-up that's focused on helping people with cancer access their data. It's a deeply personal effort for Sethi, who left Apple late last year to care for his sister, Tania, as she was dying from breast cancer.
"When Tania was sick, her doctors wanted to know a few things, like her labs," Sethi said in an interview. "These things were super important but not always easy to access."
Sethi arrived at Apple in 2016, after his previous personal health start-up, Gliimpse, was acquired to help the iPhone maker bring medical records to the masses. Ciitizen has just raised $3 million in a funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, which has raised two bio funds, including a $450 million pool in December.
Other health investments in Andreessen's bio fund include Camp4, which is developing technology to help with targeted drug development, and TwoXAR, which describes itself as "an artificial intelligence-driven drug discovery company."
In a blog post on Wednesday, Pande said that one reason health data is so hard to get is that providers have little incentive to share it. Stakeholders often use the excuse that rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act are a barrier to data sharing, even though the HIPAA regulations give patients the right to request their medical information.
Despite recent advances in consumer technology, it's not uncommon for patients with serious illnesses to print out their medical records and carry them in plastic bags to their doctor's office. And caregivers, reliant on a limited set of data, aren't immediately informed of a medication allergy or chronic disease.
"In an age of data and modern machine learning, it shouldn't be so hard for this data to see the light of day," Pande wrote.
Before Tania died, Sethi promised his sister he would do everything he could to cure cancer in his lifetime.
At Ciitizen, he's developing technology to make it easy for patients to access electronic versions of their labs, genomic test results and images, which they can share with doctors, researchers and their broader care team. That level of sharing makes it more likely that cancer patients will be connected to relevant clinical trials and potential lifesaving therapies.
"If their health information is spread across the opposite ends of the galaxy, we can create a patient-mediated wormhole that connects all this data together," Sethi said.
The company is staffed by software engineers, as well as regulatory experts like Deven McGraw, the former chief privacy officer of a division inside the Department of Health and Human Services.
Sethi said cancer is the right place to start because patients fighting the disease are particularly motivated to get the proper help. Ciitizen is planning to launch a test version of its product later this year.