At-home diagnostics startup Viome Life Sciences snagged $86.5 million in an oversubscribed series C funding round and will roll out its gut microbiome testing kit into 200 CVS stores.
Launched in 2016, Viome developed diagnostic tests for gut and oral health as well as what it calls "full body health." The company's test kits analyze the microbial composition of saliva, blood and stool samples collected at home and then provide food and supplement recommendations.
Naveen Jain, Viome founder and chief executive officer, told Fierce Healthcare that from Day 1, the company has worked to empower patients to take control of their own health.
Jain has made moonshots before with companies like robotic lunar lander company Moon Express and Blue Dot, which spun off Viome. The diagnostic company aims to harness the power of artificial intelligence, insights from consumer RNA and understanding of gene expression and the power of microbiome health to continue the consumerization of healthcare.
The funding round is an extension of the $67 million series C round the company raised and announced last October.
Viome has raised $175 million to date, and the funding will be used in research and development of future offerings and retail expansion, executives said. Lead investors Khosla Ventures and Bold Capital backed the funding round along with participation from new and existing supporters.
“Consumers are becoming very smart,” Jain said in an interview. “They’re tired of this medical industrial complex. Before COVID, people used to go to the hospital when they got sick. COVID taught us that the last thing we wanted to do was get sick and go to the hospital. What did people do? They started eating healthy. They started taking their supplements. People started realizing they can take control of their health.”
The launching of the tech company’s Gut Intelligence Test into CVS stores marks the first gut test available in the national retail chain both online and in-store, according to the company.
Last month, the company announced its Oral Health Solutions, which works to target overall health and inflammation through RNA sequencing technology and a holistic methodology.
Viome also has expanded to screening for cancer with at-home diagnostic tests. The tests are coupled with an AI-driven platform that sequences the RNA in a person’s microbiome and matches the findings to biomarkers linked to cancer. The tests, developed to detect biomarkers for early-stage oral and throat cancers, received the breakthrough-device designation from the Food and Drug Administration last year.
According to the company, the tool flags biomarkers indicative of cancer at a rate of 95% specificity and 90% sensitivity.
Jain said awareness of genetic predisposition for diseases like Alzheimer's, depression or bowel disorders is just the beginning of understanding what drives our health. The next step in empowering patients in their health journeys is in targeting gene expression. The key, he said, is the difference between DNA and RNA.
“DNA is like an alphabet, and RNA is the story you are writing,” Jain said. “What story are you writing about your life? Don’t blame your ancestors, blame your lifestyle and choices for your problems. Genes are just like a human being: put them in a good environment, good behavior; put them in a bad environment, bad behavior. Instead of going to the medical industrial complex and taking pills for the rest of your life, let’s figure out what is really making someone sick.”
Through saliva, blood and stool samples, Viome is able to assess the genetic expression of an individual. Viome then uses algorithms and what it calls the world’s largest gene expression data pool of over 600,000 samples to provide insights. Customers are told foods to avoid, along with being provided personalized health products like probiotics, supplements and oral biotic lozenges.
Full body health packages can be purchased online and come in at $199 a month including nutritional health plans directed at overall health. The package assesses biological age, along with inflammation response and oral, brain and cardio health, among other corners of health. For $149, customers can pick up the gut-only offering at 200 CVS stores to assess things like gut lining health, protein fermentation and microbiome-induced stress.
Tests are purchased nearly at cost by consumers, according to Jain. The company never sells patient data but does use it in the development of future products, he told Fierce Healthcare.
“We invested in Viome because of its unique RNA technology and cutting-edge AI which when combined with its massive bank of biological data has the potential to prevent an epidemic of chronic diseases like mental health, metabolic health, cognitive health, and digestive health,” said Robbie Schwietzer, operating partner at Khosla Ventures, in a statement.
With the infusion of cash, Jain imagines the company expanding its offerings. He sees a future where Viome offers products such as personalized toothpaste for oral health. “Hypothetically we can do a skin microbiome and come up with personalized skin cream. We can do a scalp microbiome and come up with personalized shampoo.”
Unlocking the minute universe of RNA is not the first time Jain has stood on the edge of the known world. After working at Microsoft in the 1980s and 90s, he founded InfoSpace which for a short time held the title of one of the largest internet companies in the American Northwest. The company later crashed in the dot-com bubble amid lawsuits. He has looked to space and founded organizations like the Explorers Club dedicated to the advancement of field research.
When asked what ties together all his disparate ventures, Jain told Fierce Healthcare that his goal has always been to disrupt spaces. In his book titled “Moonshots: Creating a World of Abundance,” he argues that nonexperts can step into new industries and challenge their foundations.
“We saw that everyone in healthcare was focused on genetics and DNA,” Jain said. “We realized that DNA doesn’t change when you develop a chronic disease. The only way to solve the problem is to look at what changes when you develop a chronic disease, which is RNA and gene expression. Every microbiome company other than Viome is making the same mistake by asking the wrong question. Every microbiome company is asking what organisms are in peoples’ mouths or guts. It is not the organisms, it's what they’re producing that counts. ”