With a clinical endorsement from Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India (RSSDI), Wellthy Therapeutics claims to reverse the effects of type-2 diabetes or take a patient from a high risk to a lower risk without additional drugs. Here is how it works.
“Diabetes is a mathematical equation that can be solved,” noted Abhishek Shah, CEO of Wellthy Therapeutics, over a phone call with YourStory. While other ailments like tuberculosis or malaria have quick-fix solutions, type-2 diabetes is a lifelong ailment for most patients.
Doctors in general too can spend only about 15 minutes per session advising a patient. Abhishek said, “Patients are expected to take care of themselves for the rest of the time, between appointments. This is when most of the damage happens.”
Though his parents were first-generation entrepreneurs in the healthcare space, Abhishek was distressed to see them under the category of chronic diabetes patients. Abhishek also noted that all of the core team members have a close family member who is diabetic. Wellthy Therapeutics, therefore, is about more than just the market opportunity. In this week's App Fridays story, let us learn more about the world of digital therapeutics and how Wellthy is tackling diabetes by leveraging AI to facilitate behavioural change and improve health literacy.
Wellthy Therapeutics was founded by Abhishek (CEO), Prayat Shah (Head of Business Development and Marketing), Dr Maaz Shaikh (Head of Product and Clinical Innovation), and Mayuresh Joshi (Head of Engineering) in December 2015.
Abhishek had earlier worked at UTV as the right-hand man to the CEO and founder’s office. After the venture was sold to Disney, he had stint as a VC at Unilzaer Ventures and Lightbox Ventures. Having observed healthcare ventures as a VC and also through the eyes of his parents, Abhishek saw a market gap. He said,
While tech platforms can help doctors and patients connect and provide quick access to medicines, the holy grail of healthcare is always about how to improve outcomes clinically and significantly.
So in December 2015, along with his co-founders, Abhishek started Wellthy Therapeutics with the goal of providing an AI assistant to help patients suffering from type-2 diabetes. Their goal was to help people bring down their HbA1c levels, which is a 90-day average of their blood sugar levels.
In an initial pilot study done over 16 weeks, Wellthy helped its participants drop HbA1c levels by an average of 0.59 percent, without any change in prescription. Also Abhishek claims that out of those who dropped their HbA1c, the mean drop was 1.04 percent.The team was excited by the progress. Abhishek said,
Through our 100 percent digital intervention, we were able to clinically improve outcomes of our patients better than any other entry-level prescription diabetes drug in the world.
Abhishek noted that while there was no regulatory issue stopping them from launching their platform to the public, they decided to take a clinical-first approach to the problem and get endorsements before doing so. In December 2016, RSSDI gave Wellthy a clinical endorsement as the only clinical intervention that can be prescribed by a doctor for type-2 diabetes. With this validation, Wellthy launched formally in January 2017.
Talking about their USP, compared to other players in the healthtech space, Abhishek said,
We are a healthcare company that is solving a problem using technology... We aren't a technology company trying to solve a healthcare problem.
Talking about how exactly Wellthy works, Abhishek clarifies that they don't cure diabetes. What they do is take a high-risk patient to a lower risk, help improve lifestyle metrics, and also reduce the medication that people need to be on.
Wellthy gave YourStory access to try out their app and experience its features. The app lets users log their meal, enter and monitor blood sugar over time, track medicines, and also interact with Carey, Wellthy’s chatbot. In addition, the app includes gamification in the form of badges to keep users motivated.
Abhishek described the programme as a 16–24-week structured intervention to help people develop and maintain the right habits and then go on "cruise control." Abhishek explained,
We help you with skills and tips to drive on the 'highway of diabetes'. After that, whenever you need to get out of 'cruise control', we are there.
Wellthy currently works on a B2B2C revenue model. End consumers pay for the 24-week package which Wellthy provides along with their physician partners as well as insurers and reinsurers. After one 24-week dose of the ‘digital drug’, users can use some of the features of the product for free and opt in and pay for additional support for a longer period as needed.
Some interesting features of the app include:
Weight & activity monitoring: The app provides weekly analysis of activity and includes 'daily hacks' to help users stay active.
Carey, a real-time personal nutritionist: Carey helps users better manage their blood sugar levels by learning their patterns and providing smart, easy-to-do hacks. The app provides information and patterns such as how much your blood sugar has risen from your last log and how your weight has fluctuated.
Connect to doctor: Carey analyses and stores users' data so that they can show it their doctors during their next appointment. This, in turn, helps doctors get better insights on where patients are going wrong and what they are doing right.
Some features like food tracking and activity monitoring were easy to try out and explore. Some of Carey's features, though, were difficult to verify, because one requires a glucometer to enter data and also be diabetic for the suggestions to be effective. Currently, though, Carey seems to function as a cheerleader and give good pep talks to keep users motivated. Users are prompted to respond to specific keywords and don't seem to have too much control over the flow, at least in the initial stages.
From $100 billion in 2016, India's healthcare market is poised to reach $280 billion in 2020. This explosive growth is enabled by broader and deeper penetration of broadband internet and smartphones. Ventures like HealthifyMe and cure.fit are some of the prominent names on the healthtech startup scene in India. Abhishek, though, sees Wellthy Therapeutics under another, more niche, category—‘digital therapeutics’. A recent MIT Tech Review report describes the phenomenon as replacing or augmenting medicines with a mobile app.
Talking about their future plans, Abhishek said India is currently their major focus area. He said,
The number of diabetics in India over the last 20 years has tripled from 19 million to almost 60 million. We currently treat only for for type-2 diabetes, but it accounts for 95 percent of diabetics in the world.
Based on his experience and the data they have seen thus far, Abhishek believes that the level of awareness related to health is quite low. He said, “In most cases, Indians don't do much till things go out of control.”
To tackle this, in the future, Wellthy aims to offer some pre-diabetes solutions as well. With IoT becoming mainstream across the world, Abhishek is optimistic that in a few years, collecting data from patients will be more seamless and completely digitised. In the coming months, Wellthy Therapeutics aims to venture into other Asian markets like the Middle East and South Asia along with some large institutional partners.