Startup aims to reverse diabetes using tech tools

A group of tech entrepreneurs and medical experts have launched a new virtual medical clinic with a lofty goal: Reverse Type 2 diabetes in 100 million people by 2025.

Launched by the co-founder of the real-estate website Trulia, along with two nutritional researchers, Virta is an online specialty medical clinic that pairs patients with a dedicated physician and health coach to eliminate diabetes medications and ultimately the disease, according to an announcement from the company. The specialty service relies on telehealth services, text messaging, artificial intelligence and real-time measurement of vital signs like blood pressure and blood sugar through the Virta app.

Virta timed its launch with a new study conducted in conjunction with researchers at Indiana University that showed intensive nutrition and behavioral counseling, digital coaching and physician-guided medication management helped reduce biomarkers of Type 2 diabetes among half of the participants over a 10-week period. Seventy-five percent of participants lost 5% or more body weight and 87% either eliminated or decreased their insulin dosage.

The startup’s foundation relies on an approach developed by two of its co-founders, Jeff Volek, M.D., a professor at Ohio State University and the University of Connecticut, and Stephen Phinney, M.D., a professor at the University of California-Davis. The pair authored “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living,” which explains how a low-carb diet can help manage Type 2 diabetes.

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Sami Inkinen, Virta’s CEO, believes this individualized approach to nutritional biochemistry, paired with real-time remote care and digital solutions, can reverse diabetes in 100 million people by 2025.

“Taken together, these two innovations enable us to deliver truly personalized care with high engagement in an outpatient setting, which is essential for sustainable reversal of Type 2 diabetes in millions of people, each with unique biochemistry, medications and life circumstances,” Inkinen wrote in a blog post.

In addition to the $37 million the company has received by a group of venture capitalist firms, the startup has also been praised by Robert Ratner, M.D., the former chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association, who said in a press release that Virta could “reduce one of the most significant drivers in healthcare cost growth.”

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Earlier this year, former executives with Google and Uber announced a new concierge clinic that incorporated a slew of tech gadgets including genetic screening and body scanners. However, health IT experts like Eric Topol have cautioned against services that rely on “gimmicky” tech tools.