Lark Health flying high with $100M boost to invest in R&D, tech integrations with payers

Lark Health uses a combination of artificial intelligence, coaching and health tracking to help consumers make behavioral changes to more effectively manage their chronic conditions.

The digital health startup has gained traction with major payers and just banked $100 million in new funding to ramp up its research and development and expand its virtual care integrations. The company also is looking to expand to new markets.

The series D funding round was led by Deerfield Management Company and included participation from crossover fund PFM Health Sciences, as well as returning investors Franklin Templeton, King River Capital, Castlepeak, IPD, Olive Tree Capital, and Marvell Technology co-founder Weili Dai. 

Lark has raised a total of $185 million in equity and debt funding to date. 

Julia Hu, co-founder and CEO of Lark, told Fierce Healthcare in an exclusive interview that the company plans to use the funding to enhance its data science, conversational AI and remote patient monitoring platform.

RELATED: Lark Health study shows impact of virtual diabetes prevention program on underserved population

"On the technology side, we are going deeper and going wider. We're expanding our capabilities to add additional disease states. We've also spent a lot of time with R&D training our AI to achieve clinical equivalency to live nurses, and this year, we're expanding with our large health plan partners and investing in doing more integration with health plans so we can be their digital front door," she said.

Hu said Lark Health is looking at additional chronic conditions that are on the "top of health plans' lists" as high-cost conditions.

Launched in 2011, Lark's platform has since grown to reach nearly 2 million people to support managing their diabetes, weight loss, hypertension, and behavioral health needs. Patients are provided with connected devices they can use to monitor their condition, and that data is then translated into individualized health insights through a text message-like interface.

The company has rapidly scaled from more than 1 million covered lives to nearly 30.5 million members that it is contracted to manage through its health plan partners, Hu said.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there is more demand for virtual care than ever before, leaving health plans and providers with an urgent need to deliver seamless virtual care experiences. This funding is an incredible validation of Lark’s approach of leveraging conversational AI and data science to help payers transform how they deliver care digitally, whether they need to quickly stand up a virtual primary care experience or close care gaps for people living with chronic conditions,” Hu said.

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The funding comes during a year of momentum for Lark Health. The company has recently added five members to its leadership team and published a study in Frontiers of Digital Health examining the engagement of adults 65 years and older with a digital health platform. This progress builds on the company’s announcement late last year of an expanded relationship with Anthem-affiliated health plans to power digital coaching through the health plans’ mobile app and to become the Preferred Provider for its Diabetes Prevention Program. 

The company also points to research that indicates its virtual diabetes prevention program (DPP) effectively reaches vulnerable patients and keeps them healthy at home. Lark’s research team examined their results after one year of participating in Lark’s diabetes program and found that the average weight loss for users located in health provider shortage areas (HPSA) was 4.3%. 

"A lot of times, people think about virtual care and digital care as being a toy and a cool new tech for the highly educated, metropolitan folks. We have an outstretched ability to reach these underserved populations," Hu told Fierce Healthcare.

Through its use of conversational AI and data, Lark is able to scale personalized care at a significantly lower cost than other chronic conditions management services, which rely entirely on telephonic or in-person resources for coaching interaction, according to the company.

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The adoption of digital health was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and health plans have shifted from seeing virtual care as a "nice-to-have" to a necessity to help manage members' health conditions, Hu said.

"Health plans are embracing virtual chronic, preventative and behavioral health care," she said. At the same time, payers are looking for integrated solutions that can fully leverage their existing clinical resources, rather than offering stand-alone programs to their members.

Lark designed its platform to easily integrates with health plans’ and employers’ existing healthcare infrastructure to help them scale their chronic disease prevention and management programs, she said.

Dr. Julian Harris, a partner at investment firm Deerfield, said approaches to chronic condition management so far have resulted in fragmented care that frustrates consumers, payers and providers alike.

"Lark has created a powerful AI-based platform that enables scalable personalized counseling and patient engagement that integrates and coordinates within the ecosystem to drive improved outcomes in a cost-effective way,” Harris said.