Cigna Ventures leads $23M funding round in precision medicine company GNS Healthcare

Cigna Ventures joins other big names in health insurance and biotech backing GNS Healthcare, a technology company that uses machine learning to provide precision medicine.

GNS Healthcare has raised $23 million in a series D fundraising round led by Cigna Ventures, the corporate venture fund of global health service company Cigna. Joining the funding round were Amgen Ventures, Celgene, Echo Health Ventures and Alexandria Venture Investments, as well as former Caesar’s CEO and Aetna Division President Gary Loveman.

GNS uses machine learning to effectively match the appropriate therapeutics, procedures and treatment intervention to the right patient at the right time. Cigna Ventures plans to tap GNS’ technology and solutions to further advance whole-person health for Cigna’s customers and clients, the company said.

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“Cigna is committed to improving the total health and well-being of our customers—and the personalized clinical care interventions that we expect GNS to facilitate will play a huge role in achieving those improvements,” Tom Richards, senior vice president and global lead for strategy and business development at Cigna, said in a statement. “GNS aligns with our vision and together we can super-charge our advanced analytics capabilities and provide even deeper, more predictable insights that will further enhance customer access to the highest quality treatment and care, in the preferred and appropriate place, at the right time.”

Cigna Ventures launched in September 2018 and is focused on investing in three specific areas of healthcare, Richards told FierceHealthcare.

One area is digital health and retail; the venture fund has invested significantly in Omada Health, the digital diabetes prevention company. "Another area is care delivery and care management and we have made several investments in that area, such as MDLive, the telehealth company, and Contessa, a hospital-at-home company. The third area is insights and analytics," Richards said.

GNS is the first insights- and analytics-focused investment Cigna Ventures has announced since the fund launched.

"We find them to be somewhat unique as their AI technology is truly artificial intelligence," Richards said. 

The company's reverse engineering and forward simulation platform, called REFS, is a causal learning and simulation platform. Unlike traditional AI platforms, REFS analyzes data sets beyond correlation instead of inferring causal mechanisms between variables, Richards said.

The technology analyzes how a particular patient will respond to a treatment or an intervention, he said.

"We believe this will help to improve people’s healthcare on a personalized level," Richards said.

RELATED: Cigna's strong financial start to 2019 backed by Express Scripts acquisition

Cigna’s initial focus will work to improve predictability and personalized treatment regimens, drive better outcomes and reduce the total cost of care for clients and customers. GNS and Cigna will work to combine respective data, advanced analytics and machine learning capabilities to optimize Cigna’s condition-specific clinical care programs, the company said.

Oncology is among the first key target areas, Richards said.

"Oncology is an area where increasingly medicine is becoming much more personalized and where the ideal treatment option for an individual depends on their genetic makeup," he said.

He added, "In addition to helping physicians, over time, the GNS platform is going to help us with our interactions with customers and help us to understand what the next best action for a customer would be."

With Cigna's $67 billion purchase of pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts last year, the company is expanding more into health services. Cigna' work with GNS Healthcare could tie in with its Express Scripts business in the future, Richards said.

"We’re very excited about the opportunity to deliver much more personalized interactions with patients and customers that will lead to improved health and affordability," he said.

“We are thrilled to have Cigna contribute to our next phase of growth,” Colin Hill, chairman, CEO and co-founder of GNS Healthcare, said in a statement. "Cigna is the perfect complement to our cadre of leading biopharma companies and health plan partners committed to improving patient outcomes through causal AI and the precision healthcare it enables.”