JPM24, Day 1: Mayo Clinic partners with Cerebras; Corewell Health's post-merger savings

It's officially a new year for the healthcare industry, as biopharma executives, investors, reporters and others make the annual trek to the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco for the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

We have you covered with the biggest headlines from Monday here, as well as across the site. And to keep up with the Fierce Biotech team, click here.

Follow the Fierce team's coverage of the 2024 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference here

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 11:30 p.m. ET

Mayo Clinic partners with Cerebras Systems to build 'foundation AI'

Real-world data and artificial intelligence are front and center among Mayo Clinic’s plans for the future.

That was the takeaway from the system's late Monday J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference presentation, where the Minnesota nonprofit unveiled a new partnership with AI startup Cerebras Systems.

The pair will develop a foundation AI model (an AI model trained so that it can be used in a range of use cases) upon Mayo Clinic’s various structured and unstructured data, including “clinical notes, imaging reports and lab values,” said Matthew Callstrom, M.D., Mayo Clinic’s medical director for strategy and chair of its radiology department.

The arrangement, reported to involve multiple millions of dollars, is a way for AI to capture the medical care health systems like Mayo Clinic deliver that exceed what’s etched out in clinical guidelines, Callstrom said.

“Our first effort will be to use over 100,000 patients that we have complete genomic sequencing [for] to build a language model around genomics data,” he said during the conference. “We’ll be able to ask relatively simple questions, for instance, how well patients respond to treatment. And one of the first use cases will be to find out whether or not patients with rheumatoid arthritis might respond to methotrexate. With them, we might be able to more quickly pivot patients to the right treatment.”

Callstrom went on to detail other ongoing AI projects at Mayo Clinic exploring early detection of pancreatic cancer and atrial fibrillation, as well as those targeting workers' administrative burdens. — Dave Muoio

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 9:30 p.m. ET

Corewell Health's 2022 merger is saving $200M per year

Nearly two years after Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health merged to form Michigan’s largest health system, Corewell Health, executives said their combination is already delivering $200 million in annual savings.

Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Chief Financial Officer Matthew Cox said that the organization milestone—an estimate shared around the time of the deal—has so far been buried underneath other investments Corewell has make related to the integration, such as rebranding or standardization of EHR and enterprise management software across locations.

Starting in 2025, however, “we’re going to see that $200 million a year that we’re saving translate more to our bottom line, versus the investments we’re making right now that offset it,” Cox said.

The savings themselves are split between Corewell’s supply chain, revenue cycle and marketing, each of which have benefitted from enterprise-wide standardization, the CFO said. Of note, the “secret sauce” of those achievements and 2025’s eventual $200 million was the establishment of an integration management office that tracked all of the savings and investments from day one, he continued.

“We know that by doing things in a standardized way, in a coordinated way, we can save the dollar,” he said. “And I’ve got a spreadsheet that I can show everybody to prove that these savings are real, and they’re something that we can replicate in the future.”

Cox later disclosed that the system is weighing whether to issue more debt before the end of the year, which would be used to accelerate Corewell’s 10-year capital plan. — Dave Muoio

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 4:26 p.m. ET

Cleveland Clinic outlines challenges, priorities in 2024

While major providers have seen the effects of labor shortages wane in recent months, those challenges aren't going away in full. Dennis Laraway, chief financial officer for Cleveland Clinic, said that workforce issues are "the real crisis that has emerged from the pandemic."

"Workforce shortage is here to stay, we do not see that going away," said CEO Tom Mihaljevic.

He said that they see digital health playing a major role in mitigating these workforce challenges, as it allows providers to adapt the composition of their workforce while still growing services to meet patient need.

The Cleveland Clinic executives also outlined their key focuses for ongoing transformation, laying out a plan for the system's financial future for the investors at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. Mihaljevic said that includes four main pillars: transformation of care, empowering caregivers, uplifting communities and financial sustainability.

They also highlighted Cleveland Clinic's growth abroad, as the provider operates campuses in London and Abu Dhabi. The former opened in 2022 as the industry continued to rebound from the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic. — Paige Minemyer

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 4 p.m. ET

Sutter Health eyes growth

Sacramento-based Sutter Health stepped onto the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference stage with promises of growth in the coming years — as well as reassurances that their investments will be well-received.

The nonprofit system said it plans to open 25 ambulatory care centers sites within the next three years. These will be “everything from primary care locations to multicenter locations to centers of excellence,” Sutter Chief Strategy and Growth Officer Cynthia Lee told conference attendees. Three other larger centers will be receiving over $200 million of investments to expand their capacity to accommodate transfers from higher levels of care, she said.

These targets outline a shift in Sutter’s planned capital investment spread that’s expected through 2032, Lee explained. Whereas Sutter pointed 16% of its total historical spend from 2012 to 2022 toward ambulatory care, it’s targeting 32% of the total from 2023 to 2032, she said.

Lee and Warner Thomas, CEO and president, painted these and other growth targets as a response to sustained demand and shifting populations.

For the former, executives highlighted year-over-year volume growth across each of it’s major metrics admissions (4.9%), transfers (8.7%), total active patients (6.6%) and outpatient surgeries (5.9%).

However, about 45% of its patients looking for a referral remain unscheduled, about 700,000 have appointments that need to be scheduled 14 or more days away and almost 10,000 transfers can’t be handled, she said.

Meanwhile, many Bay Area residents have started to move away from the tighter urban centers and into the surrounding communities due to a combination of housing costs and other preferences since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thomas added.

These investments and other recent cross-market dealmaking—for instance, last year’s acquisition of Santa Barbera-based Sansum Clinic—are both proactive moves that will help the nonprofit meet Northern California’s healthcare needs, the executives said.

“It’s not just about growing for growing’s sake—we literally have patients we can’t see,” Thomas said. “It’s about taking care of people. We’re very focused on that, we’re very focused on growing specialties where we know we’ve got long waits, and growing in markets where we know that there’s folks that are just not getting the care that they need each and every day.” — Dave Muoio

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 3:36 p.m. ET

CVS Health Ventures invests in senior care

WellBe Senior Medical, which provides in-home value-based care, secured funding from the venture capital arm of CVS Health, it announced this weekend.

WellBe did not disclose the amount provided by CVS Health Ventures. WellBe's model brings multiple key geriatric services into the home, which allows for more proactive care management for the highest acquity Medicare Advantage patients. The company partners with MA plans to manage between 10% and 15% of members, all of whom have very high and/or rising medical loss ratios.

Through this model, WellBe is able to guarantee savings up front for the insurer and take on financial risk, the company said.

"Instead of trying to bring these frail patients to the care, the solution is to brin­­g the care to the patient, in the comfort of their own home," said CEO Jeffrey Kang, M.D., in an announcement.

WellBe said its model has been able to drive down unnecessary medical costs by reducing hospitalizations while improving patient experience, which can have a signficiant effect for the program's star ratings.

"CVS Health Ventures is committed to helping provide seamless access to quality health care, especially for vulnerable populations like seniors," says Vijay Patel, managing partner of CVS Health Ventures, in the release. "WellBe's innovative approach to in-home medical care aligns with our vision of redefining the way health care is delivered in a multi-payor, patient-centric manner. Our collaboration with WellBe will support their mission to empower seniors to live healthier, happier lives in their homes." — Paige Minemyer

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 3:00 p.m. ET

MGB paints Dana-Farber breakup as opportunity

An unexpected cancer care breakup might have taken Mass General Brigham by surprise, but it’s left CEO Anne Klibanski with a blank slate and an optimistic view of its future.

Speaking Monday at J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, the executive said that Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s decision last September to build a new freestanding cancer hospital with MGB competitor Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is “the single greatest opportunity that has been presented to our system since I became CEO in 2019.”

MGB has found any kind of system integrations with the Dana-Farber center to be a challenge, even though it operates under a similar model as MGB’s other hospital-embedded cancer center, she said.

But nowadays, she said that because “cancer is such a chronic disease now, you have to have specialists in other departments all working together to bring that patient a very different model than the way it was when many freestanding cancer centers were set up years ago.”

Much of the clinical expertise for these additional services are currently part of an MGB medical group, Klibanski noted. Once the current contract with Dana-Farber runs its course, MGB will have a near-clean foundation with which to execute a new, more clinically integrated care strategy.

“What an opportunity not to have to put things on top of things, on top of things, on top of things—which is how a lot of change gets done in these complicated legacy healthcare systems,” she said. “We’re in the midst of this now, [but we’re taking] hundreds of clinicians and educators and researchers and putting them together in a highly scripted, regimented process to really say ‘what’s cancer care going to look like?’

“It’s not all going to be an inpatient story, she continued. “What are we going to deliver in a hospital, what are we going to deliver in a community hospital, what are we going to deliver in the home, and what are we going to deliver virtually? Those are really all the components that we have in the system, and for the first time we can put them together and really plan for the future in a very, very different way.” — Dave Muoio

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 2 p.m. ET

Phreesia plots path to profitability

Phreesia, a software company that helps providers with administrative and point of care services and manages 10% of patient visits nationally, said during its session on Monday that its prior investments should lead the company back to a profitable fiscal year 2025 for the first time since fiscal year 2021.

While Phreesia expects revenue to hit approximately $356 million (a 27% increase year-over year), with a near breakeven adjusted EBITDA, the company hopes to hit its stride the following year by reaching $434 million in total revenue and being in the green by $10-20 million in adjusted EBITDA. Average revenue per client has jumped around 47% since the company's IPO five years ago.

"We frontloaded a lot of investments to become a much larger company," said CFO Balaji Gandhi. Investments were made into infrastructure and life sciences.

CEO Chaim Indig said the company currently generates revenue through from providers through subscriptions and payment processing fees, making up nearly three-quarters of its Q3 2024 revenue. The remaining revenue comes from network solutions.

He also noted the importance of Phreesia's PAM, or Patient Activation Measure, metric, which was included by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in its Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). PAM measures a patient's knowledge of medication and preventative health. — Noah Tong

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 12 p.m. ET

Walgreens CEO says no more big-ticket primary care M&A

Retail pharmacy giant Walgreens went on a buying spree in the past two years, buying home healthcare company CareCentrix for $392 million in 2022, along with buying the remaining stake in specialty pharmacy company Shields Health Solutions for approximately $1.37 billion. 

In 2021, the company invested $5.2 billion in VillageMD to become a majority owner and then shelled out nearly $9 billion to pick up medical practice Summit Health, the parent company of urgent care clinic chain CityMD.

During the J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, new CEO Tim Wenworth said Walgreens was "open for business" for deals involving mall to mid-size companies but does not plan to make significant investments in primary care assets.

"We are not cash rich right now. We're not in a position where we can do large acquisitions. I believe we're at a position where we need to grow the company in a meaningfully responsible way on an earnings basis for the longer term," Wentworth said.

The company's healthcare segment includes primary care provider VillageMD; Summit Health/CityMD, a provider of primary, specialty and urgent care; CareCentrix, a post-acute and home care provider; specialty pharmacy Shields Health; and Walgreens Health.

Wentworth said he is focused on "capital efficient health services expansion."

"If you you look at clinical trials for pharma, we've written, in two quarters, 25 contracts. Some of these contracts had double-digit million dollar contracts, multiple year contracts. They require very little capital to invest in and they leverage our trust to recruit for diverse patient populations for trials at four times the rate that traditional methods delivered," he said.

During the fireside chat, Wentworth also signaled the drugstore retail giant is exploring new pharmacy models as cost-plus drug pricing gains momentum, signaling comments he made during the company's recent earnings call.

"We are in a situation where there's not much left to give"  with regard to traditional retail pharmacy reimbursement. he said. "We see a both both retail, large retail national chains, struggling to grow the front of the store and invest in it because of the reimbursements in the back."

His comments come as both CVS and Walgreens recently announced new programs designed to reduce prescription drug prices for many patients and bring greater price transparency to consumers.

Walgreens, in turn, recently launched a new digital marketplace, called Rx Savings Finder, designed to help customers save money on prescription medications. — Heather Landi

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 11:37 a.m. ET

How CVS aims to tap into synergies between Oak Street, Signify

CVS Health closed major deals last year in acquiring home health company Signify Health and primary care provider Oak Street, and as it makes progress in integration it's identifying clear synergies between these segments, CEO Karen Lynch said Monday.

During the company's session at JPM24, Lynch said that CVS is "well on our way" with integration, and it's found areas where Oak Street and Signify align, where its retail pharmacies align with Oak Street's capabilities and other overlaps in care management that are allowing CVS to think differently about product design.

She said that having customers interact with CVS at multiple points allows for better engagement and experience.

"We constantly look at whats's going on in the market, but our focus is getting these assets to work," Lynch said.

Hear more from her and newly-instated CFO Tom Cowhey in a full story later today. — Paige Minemyer

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 8 at 5 a.m. ET

It's officially that time of year again! The Fierce Healthcare team is on the ground at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference with the latest headlines from the show. 

Kicking off the slate of sessions today is CVS Health, which will present at 10:30 a.m. ET. Following on its heels is rival Walgreens, which will present at 11:15 a.m. ET.

Walgreens hosted its earnings call this week, where new CEO Tim Wentworth discussed the strategy around its VillageMD arm, new pharmacy models and more, so expect analysts to dive even further into those topics during the session. Heather Landi has you covered with the details.

AI chipmaker Nvidia also will present at 1:30 pm ET and there will be a panel discussion about AI in healthcare to close out the conference today.

We'll also be covering a slew of non-profits throughout the day, including CommonSpirit Health, Mass General Brigham, Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic. Keep an eye out for updates from Dave Muoio. — Paige Minemyer