Can a Medicare Advantage insurer be great at drug development for their target audience?
The top team at Clover Health believes they can do something no other health insurer in the US has attempted: Build new drugs from scratch.
The buzzy company run by Vivek Garipalli — who’s raised hundreds of millions of dollars for his new-wave insurance company — tapped ex-Pfizer exec Cheng Zhang to run his new biotech startup, Clover Therapeutics. And now Zhang and CSO Marcel van der Brug have allied with none other than Genentech to start putting their extensive healthcare data to work with genetics experts to start hunting new drugs that afflict their population of aging customers.
Garipalli set out to build a real tech legend when he started Clover with considerable help from Silicon Valley. Now, all that digital data he’s got flowing could carry a pipeline of new drugs forward. Or at least that’s the theory.
Zhang and his CSO tell me they’re starting out with ocular diseases, looking for the disease drivers involving more narrow subsets of patients who would benefit from new, targeted therapies in macular degeneration and so on. But they’re also interested in a wide range of chronic, progressive diseases associated with aging. That includes Parkinson’s.
That’s a mighty tall order for a company with fewer than a dozen employees and nothing in development. Zhang tells me they should be up to 20 or 30 staffers in a year’s time, still small compared to the 350 or so who work at the mother company. But he’s not telling me just how much Garipalli is putting in over the next 2 years during the ramp-up phase, as they add development, bioinformatics, biology and chemistry expertise.
In a statement, Roche global BD chief James Sabry gave the effort his personal thumbs up in a prepared statement:
Partnering with Clover Therapeutics will help further our understanding of ocular disease through our shared vision of using clinical and genomic data to develop personalized medicines.
Social image: Cheng Zhang and Marcel van der Brug