HIMSS Accelerate Health Podcast

Pharma Startups Moving the Needle: Naomi Fried, Founder of PharmStars

June 30, 2021 Naomi Fried, Founder, PharmStars Season 2 Episode 16
HIMSS Accelerate Health Podcast
Pharma Startups Moving the Needle: Naomi Fried, Founder of PharmStars
Show Notes Transcript

This week, Kerry Amato speaks with Naomi Fried, the founder and CEO of PharmStars , the first and only pharma-focused accelerator for digital health startups, dedicated to driving digital health adoption to improve patient outcomes. PharmStars understands and addresses the challenges that pharma and startups face when seeking to collaborate. Their PharmaU program supports the digital health startups and pharma members seeking to “bridge the gap,” leading to greater success and faster adoption of “beyond the molecule” solutions for patients. Kerry and Naomi discuss the importance of a pharma-specific accelerator in the digital health space while highlighting the groundbreaking work PharmStars is doing to advance the field.  Applications for participation in the first cohort are due July 21, 2021. 

Kerry Amato  0:00  
Hello Changemakers! Welcome to this episode of the HIMSS accelerate health podcast. This is Kerry Amato, the Executive Director for health innovation at HIMSS. And today I'm joined by Naomi Fried who is the CEO and founder of PharmStars, as well as the managing partner and co founder of Ambit Health Ventures.  PharmStars, is the first and only pharma focused accelerator for digital health startups. I'm excited today to chat with Naomi and hear how this new endeavor will move the needle on pharma and the digital health landscape.

Welcome, Naomi. thrilled to have you. 

Naomi Fried  0:44  
Thank you, Kerry, and delighted to be with you today. 

Kerry Amato  0:47  
So let's jump in. So you just launched farm stars. So talk to me, let's let's start with why now, why do you see this as a good opportunity right now to launch something like this?

Naomi Fried  0:58  
Great question. Well, let me start a little bit with my background. And I'll get to the why now. So you may know that I was the first vice president of innovation, advanced technology, Kaiser Permanente, where I really got into the whole field of innovation within large healthcare organizations. I had the privilege and honor of becoming the first Chief Innovation Officer of Boston Children's Hospital, and building their innovation acceleration program, which included a very strong focus on digital health and built the digital health accelerator. They're from Boston Children's Hospital, I was actually recruited to Biogen to help them develop their innovation beyond the molecule strategy. And that was there that I sort of came to appreciate how important digital health can be and should be to pharma. I left Biogen and began consulting with large pharmaceutical companies on their digital health strategy. And my whole life, I've been involved with startups, even as an entrepreneur prior to Kaiser, because I love innovation and working with early stage companies. I really believe carry that digital health has the potential to transform healthcare, it's going to change care, delivery communications, it's even going to offer fundamentally new therapies that don't exist. And for all of these reasons, pharma is very interested in digital health, what we sort of call now beyond the molecule solutions. And you know, digital health stops really want to engage with pharma. But there seems to be a pharma startup gap that is thriving, there is a chasm that makes partnerships between digital health startups and pharma, very challenging. And it's difficult to do these deals for many reasons having to do with culture, timing expectations on both sides of the table, even not sharing a common language. And so I really built and launched  PharmStars, as an accelerator to address this pharma startup gap.

Kerry Amato  3:05  
It's so exciting. And I love that term beyond the molecule that's love that love that and I share your enthusiasm about digital health. I agree. I think it can completely change healthcare as we know it, for sure. So talk to me about the actual program though with pharma star. So how does how does it work? How is it different than other accelerators?

Naomi Fried  3:25  
Well, so we start with the startups. So startups apply to participate in the  PharmStars, program. 10 are selected and they go through a 10 week accelerator program. And these startups are digital health startups who want farmer as a client as a customer. They want to understand what most people consider to be a pretty opaque industry. And what we offer at  PharmStars, is something very unique that we call pharma you it's a three part educational program. First of all, for the startups, we actually have a comprehensive, structured curriculum that we have designed to educate and teach them about pharma about how Pharma organizations work, what they're looking for, who to engage with everything basically that a digital health startup needs to know if they're going to successfully engage with pharma. The second part of pharma U is our one on one startup mentoring. And that's done by our pharmacists, our staffs, staff who are all season former pharma executives, we don't rely on an ad hoc network of volunteers for this very important component, the start of mentoring. And then the third piece of pharma U is what we call executive Ed. And these are the special workshops and programs that we run for our pharma members, where we help them figure out how to better drive adoption of digital health within their organizations. pharma, you and our program culminate with a proprietary showcase event. This is where the stars now get to show off their new education. Provide a pitch and then have one on one meetings with our members. Our members are pharma and biotech company of all sizes. And our members actually commit to meeting with the startups. And they recognize that we can be successful together. I think what makes us unique Carrie is that we are the first and only pharma focused digital health accelerator for startups. You know, there there are many accelerators out there. Quite a few are focused on healthcare, some even just on digital health. But we are the only non proprietary pharma focused accelerator. There are some pharma focused accelerators that are run by pharma for their own benefit. They're basically internal programs. They're not open to the entire industry. They're not open to anyone from membership. And I'd say there's another thing that really makes us unique, and that's our curriculum pharma you where we actually have done research and put together a program and we are prepared to teach startups what they need to know about pharma. And as I mentioned before, our mentoring is also unique because it's only done by pharma professionals, because we want to make sure that all of our startups get the highest possible quality mentorship.

Kerry Amato  6:18  
Yeah, I like I like the mentoring pieces. What I mean that and then you actually your members are the actual pharma companies. I think those are, those are important differentiators for people listening, trying to figure out, you know, how do I break into pharma? And how can farmer stars really helped me I think, I think that's important. So let's talk a little bit, you know, you're talking about the curriculum, but the curriculum is there for a reason, right? Because there is a serious disconnect, as we talk about an industry often between just the whole culture of pharma, and then the digital health culture, often they're built in total separate silos, you know, they think different, they operate different their languages even different in some standpoint. So talk to me about some of those, those disconnects that you have personally seen, Naomi, and and how you think this, you know, curriculum will help with that?

Naomi Fried  7:03  
Yeah, so you know, big pharma, are very process oriented, they operate in a highly regulated environment, they are very preoccupied with risk and safety, and they have processes in place to make sure that they're careful with their data. They only interact with clinicians and patients in ways that are illegal, because they're under regulatory scrutiny by the FDA and other agencies. startups, on the other hand, are agile and nimble, they don't have to worry about all these regulations, they can talk to doctors, they can work with patients, they should be keeping data, carefully, secure, and private. But even things like the ccpa regulations in California, those don't actually apply to small startups, because they aren't large enough to meet the requirement to comply. But Big Pharma certainly has to comply with them. And so what you see is two groups operating in very different universes. But when they want to get together, they have to meet halfway. Sometimes, though, for the startup, they have to actually comply with all of the rules and regulations that pharma are subjected to, for any partnership with deal that they have wants to do together. And this is really where I think there's a disconnect in understanding each other. And this also contributes very much to some of the challenges when the two groups try to get together. pharma has a process, they're going to engage their lawyers, it's going to take some time, startups tend to be more of a hurry, they'd like to do things quickly, they tend not to have a big legal staff at their disposal. And startups are often under timing pressure, because they have a certain amount of funding from their investors, which will run out and they need to achieve milestones they need to get deals done, they need to bring revenue in in order to not just achieve their milestones, but actually be able to raise more money. So it's all of these differences that make it challenging for Big Pharma and digital health startups to get together. But I think it's totally worth it. And they both have things to offer each other. And that's why we at  PharmStars, are trying to help bring the two sides together to educate both the startups in what they need to know. So they can be better partners, and to support and guide and advise pharma on what will help them be more effective in engaging with digital health startups

Kerry Amato  9:37  
love it. And so you know, instead of just focusing here on what we're trying to fix, which is amazing. Are there other examples in your experience where this has worked, where digital health I mean, I've got some of the top of my head but maybe you have an example where this has worked right between digital health and pharma. We've seen some success. Can you share a little bit about one of those that comes to mind?

Naomi Fried  9:58  
Sure. So I wouldn't say That the field is littered with successes just yet. I think there's a lot of going to be. So especially after every  PharmStars,, I think there's a lot of unmet interest and demand for digital Health Solutions beyond the molecule solutions by pharma. And there's a lot of interest from many, many startups in working with pharma. But just to give you a recent success story that, you know, did make the news. So, one pharma digital health veal that I think worked well was well, Doc's, they did previously a deal with Astellas that was supposedly worth $15 million, and more recently engaged with Eli Lilly. Well, box has this blue star platform, which is FDA approved. And it's an app based diabetes management solution that I think can be used with insulin dosing. And it's clearly a digital health innovation. But this is also a company with 200 employees carry and over $55 million in venture capital funding. So it's great that they've been successful. But there's also many, many smaller companies that would love to do deals like this with Big Pharma. And I think for a lot of these smaller companies, the successes have been a little bit more elusive. And again, this is where we think that  PharmStars, can step in and help get more deals done and bring more partnerships together. Yeah. And

Kerry Amato  11:29  
so has pharma been when we when you when you came with this idea to some of your, you know, farmer members, there are now members, I should say, from some of the big pharma names because you have some of the biggest pharma names in here? What was the reaction? Were they excited for a program like this? Like, as you've mentioned, they internally have all you know, at times, and they all currently still are trying to incubate their own? I mean, are they excited for this?

Naomi Fried  11:53  
Yes. So we have launched with four leading pharma members as our founder members, and I can't share their names right now. But we're preparing a press release, and that will be publicly available shortly. But all of these companies are leaders in their field. They're well known. And really importantly, they are committed to digital health. And they're excited to work with our grooms startups. But they also don't have long track records of 10s or hundreds of startups that they've done deals with. So they are eager to work with our startups. They're eager to participate in executive Ed. And we really are just hearing over and over again, a validation of the pharma startup gap. And I think there's really a recognition across the industry, that there is a problem, but there's tremendous opportunity. If we can close that gap down,

Kerry Amato  12:47  
though. I know we have a call you have a call open now. You're looking to take 10 what type of companies is there a certain niche of healthcare, they need to be at a certain stage of business they need to be at what are you looking for?

Naomi Fried  13:00  
Sure. So. So  PharmStars, generally is designed to support digital health startups that want to engage with clients, with farmers clients, as customers as partners, and that would benefit from access to our farmer members, and really see the importance of an enhanced understanding. So for us, the the ideal startup in terms of stage would have a prototype or a product that they're ready to offer pharma. So if you're still in the concept phase, you're probably a little too early. For  PharmStars, I would add that for our first cohort that's launching this fall, we actually have a priority focus. So all digital health startups are welcome to apply if they have an innovative pharma solution, but we're going to be actually giving priority in this cohort to startups that have innovative digital health solutions that enhance and improve clinical trials. And that includes technology to increase the speed and efficiency of clinical trials such as through recruitment and retention, but also data collection and management, including remote monitoring adherence. So this is a pretty broad umbrella of startups that could apply. And our future cohorts will all have different thematic priorities, in terms of how we're choosing the 10 startups that will be offered admission into the accelerator. So I'd say we're looking for first of all good fit that they have a promising innovation that is important to pharma, the product stage that I just mentioned that you know, they have a product that's viable and can be immediately adopted, and that they have a need. They haven't broadly and been very successful, haven't broadly and successfully yet engaged with pharma. And they'd actually benefit from the education and coaching. But I think pharmacists in some ways is of greatest value to startups that are just trying to learn how to get into the industry and we're already seeing applications Kari from companies that have been selling into other parts of the healthcare industry and now want to pivot into pharma, but don't know how to do it, but do want to put their best foot forward right from the start? Well, that's

Kerry Amato  15:13  
what you got me to thinking. I'm like, I wondered if if it? Yeah, I mean, because there's a lot of companies that didn't build business models, thinking of pharma at the end of it, but maybe they their product has, you know, application to clinical trials or whatever your next cohort might be. So that's interesting that you are seeing people kind of pivot and their, their their initial thought wasn't working with pharma. And now they're like, oh, maybe maybe it is something there. Alright. So if they want, when does the call close here.

Naomi Fried  15:40  
So applications for our first cohort are due July 21. And then startups will be notified on or before August 23. If they're going to be invited to participate, and then pharma, you launches September 1, it'll run until November 10. And then sometime in the mid November to mid December timeframe, we will have our showcase event where our startups finally pitch and meet with the members. And so yeah, we are super excited about this first cohort. And we're hoping to run multiple cohorts, probably at least two in 2022.

Kerry Amato  16:13  
Oh, that's amazing. That's awesome. Well, and hopefully, we can figure out how to get him plugged in here on one of your, your showcase events. We're excited for you guys, that sounds amazing. I'm excited to see the response you get in the 10, you pick, I have no doubt they are going to be rock stars, and you're going to make them even even more rock star. So I do want to switch gears though, because I can't have an amazing female leader like you on the call and not switch gears a little bit here to leadership, and being a woman leader in healthcare and that kind of thing. So we have lots of listeners who are up and coming women in health care women in their fields, what what is what would be your biggest piece of advice for you know, women's climbing the ranks here? What would what would your piece of advice be?

Naomi Fried  16:53  
Well, thanks for for that, Carrie. So I guess you know, and thinking about lessons I've learned, I think healthcare is a great field for women I want I want to say that upfront. There are amazing role models and mentors out there. And I guess my advice would be to find and be a mentor, help everyone you can. And don't limit yourself to women. Don't limit yourself to other women mentors, I've had some amazing male mentors who have helped me and partners. But also give back and you get a lot and you learn a lot by being a mentor, not just finding a mentor. And I would say just personally, having a woman partner is terrific. I am honored to be working with Laura Gunn right now. And we are having a ball or collaborating. She's our Managing Director at PharmStars, A very seasoned pharmaceutical executive. And, you know, we're just enjoying Girl Power totally.

Kerry Amato  17:53  
I'm in I'm enjoying watching it. I love the whole thing. I think. I think that's great. If I have to say cuz earlier you mentioned how you love working with startups. And it's your thing, you kind of this is kind of a startup, how has that how has that been? I mean, what Talk to me a little bit about being the entrepreneur this side and on this side of the journey.

Naomi Fried  18:11  
So I love being an entrepreneur, I'm an entrepreneur at heart. And, you know, I've been on the startup side, I feel like I was an entrepreneur inside of large organizations. I think that, you know, in terms of being on a journey of entrepreneurship, I think the most important thing is to take risks, and even what I would call make leaps. And I would say nothing really important gets done in life, if you let fear government govern your decision making. So you know, take those risks, grab those, you know, opportunities, and don't worry about, you know, making mistakes or failing. You know, everyone does both of those things. I think the key is really to learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up and pivot, the real, only real failure is not not learning and not continuing to try. And so yes, we feel like PharmStars, is also you know, a startup and we talk frequently about how we will evolve our business model, how we will pivot, we are learning all the time from our members, we will learn tremendously from our startups who are actually as startups apply we ask them to give us some feedback. So feedback is also a great tool but just be open to change and embrace it and it can be an incredible dynamic journey.

Kerry Amato  19:30  
Know that changes in opportunity, not necessarily a challenge. That's a wonderful thing. So then I'll ask you just kind of the last question I asked all my guests here which is you know, you have a lot going on as ever as we all do, right? How do you balance it all? Where do you find that that room to breathe in the busy, busy career that you manage in busy life?

Naomi Fried  19:49  
Thank you, Kerry for implying that I'm doing it all i'm not sure that I am but I think everyone is juggling, whether it's home and family, whether it's multiple jobs, whether it's you No different types of transition. So I guess if I had to give some advice, I would say that it's important to make time for yourself, no matter no matter how busy you are, that self care is really important to overall success, you know, maybe busy, you may feel like you're running and sprinting. But life is a marathon, your career is a marathon. And my favorite form of self self care is dancing. I take Zumba classes for relaxation and to recharge me when I'm tired or stressed. And some of my best ideas come while I'm in the middle of a marine gay so you know, just try to find what you know, feeds your soul and take time for yourself. That would be my my advice for balance.

Kerry Amato  20:42  
I absolutely adore that answer. And I as well enjoy some zoom bus. So that's, that's awesome. Maybe read the next hims global conference, we'll have to get a Zumba class going, we'll get a group of people who are interested in it. I love it. Well, you know, in a rock star, and I have no doubt the firm stars is gonna go amazing places. And I'm just thrilled to watch it. It's a reminder for people listening July 21, the first cohort application closes, right? Where can they go if they want to apply?

Naomi Fried  21:10  
They should come to our website, www.PharmStars.com that's P-H-A-R-M-A-S-T-A-R-S.COM

Kerry Amato  21:20  
Well, I am excited and you keep us posted on how we can continue to support and looking forward to seeing the success that comes out of this. And so that said, I want to thank you for being with us today. And I want to remind our listeners that we drop new episodes each week and we hope that you will join us until then, whatever part of healthcare you're working on, keep that foot on the accelerator and we'll all talk soon. Thank you. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai