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The billion-dollar fight over the future of telehealth

Lydia Ramsey Pflanzer   

The billion-dollar fight over the future of telehealth


Welcome to Dispensed, Business Insider's weekly healthcare newsletter.

We're back after a week off — Hope you all had a restful holiday weekend last week! For those of you in the trajectory of Tropical Storm Fay, I hope you all stay dry this weekend.

Some quick updates for you:

Coronavirus hospitalizations are on the rise

Remember that chart I showed you two weeks ago, showing that COVID-19 hospitalizations had started ticking back up after 2 months of decline?

Well here's a look at where they are now.

As cases keep going up across the US, hospitals are already getting overwhelmed. Doctors in Arizona told Business Insider they're working 90-hour weeks.

"We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US's top infectious disease expert, said in a conversation with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, on Monday.

The billion-dollar fight over the future of telehealth

Kimberly Leonard took a closer look at what's at stake in the debate brewing over what the future of telemedicine might hold — and how much it might cost to pay for video and telephone visits.

As part of it, Kimberly spoke to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.

Verma shared the concerns she's weighing about telemedicine. The decisions CMS made in the early days of the pandemic contributed greatly to the explosive use. How the agency decides to proceed will be critical to the future of medicine.

You can read the full story here>>

Trump's Medicare chief has a big decision to make over whether doctors should be paid for phone calls and video visits. Here are the 3 biggest concerns she's weighing over the future of healthcare.

We're on the brink of large-scale coronavirus vaccine testing

July is shaping up to be a big month in the race to find effective treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus. At the start of the month, Andrew Dunn laid out the 9 most important events to keep an eye out for.

Already, we got early data from Pfizer's vaccine efforts to kick off the month.

Next, all eyes are on Moderna as it looks to start its late-stage, 30,000-volunteer trial for its vaccine. But, as Reuters reported Tuesday, there have been some setbacks while getting up and running. The trial is still slated to begin in July.

Meanwhile, Andrew reports, Novavax, a 33-year-old company that's never gotten a vaccine approved, got a big vote of confidence from the Trump administration.

The CEO of the tiny biotech told Andrew how a $1.6 billion grant from the US government will 'level the playing field' with Big Pharma.

Pulling off massive vaccine trials for multiple companies to see how well they all work will be no small feat. Andrew talked to a top vaccine researcher leading an effort to coordinate the attempt.

Here's an inside look at how drugmakers like Moderna, J&J, and AstraZeneca are teaming up with top doctors to test coronavirus vaccines in thousands of people as they race to halt the pandemic

And — if you're interested (I'm not sure I am) — Here's how to sign up to take part in the trials.

Should all go to plan, analysts at Morgan Stanley expect results from these massive studies should be available by November.

On the coronavirus treatment front, Andrew took a step back and looked at the three-decade history of Regeneron, which is working on a new antibody drug to treat COVID-19.

You can read the full story here>>

How a biotech run by 2 billionaires built a promising coronavirus treatment in record time with custom-engineered mice

Digital health startups had a record-breaking first half of 2020

It was a big first half of the year for some healthcare startups.

Digital health startups raised a record-breaking $5.4 billion in the first half of 2020, per Rock Health, Blake Dodge reports.

Other health-tech startups — in some cases companies that had raised new capital from investors as recently as 2020 — needed help and got it through Paycheck Protection Program loans. Venture-backed companies have drawn som criticism for using the program, because of their ability to draw on existing investors for additional capital.

Of the 660,000 companies listed in the PPP database, Kimberly and I confirmed 9 health-tech startups that received a loan from the program.

Here are the 9 health-tech startups that got coronavirus stimulus loans to keep workers employed during the pandemic.

Overall, it seems the capital flowing into healthcare startups won't be ending anytime soon. Blake spoke to Mubadala Ventures, Abu Dhabi's $2 billion VC firm, which is set to launch a fund focused on healthcare. The man who's running it shared the 3 themes driving his strategy.

Blake has the full list of the digital health startups that raised the most in the first half of 2020.

You can read the full story here>>

VCs just poured $5.4 billion into startups forging the future of healthcare. Here are the 11 top digital health startups that took home the most cash.

Investors are making big bets on the future of the pharmacy and where you go to the doctor

It was a big week of primary care and pharmacy news.

First up: pharmacy-startup Truepill raised $25 million from investors including Optum Ventures. It's now getting into the business of powering prescriptions — and now virtual visits — for drugmakers as well as health plans.

Truepill is one of 8 pharmacy startups we've been tracking as they take on the $355 billion market for prescription drugs.

And Walgreens made a big bet that it can use its retail pharmacy footprint to help people go to the doctor.

Walgreens said that it's setting up 500 to 700 primary care locations in partnership with startup VillageMD. Walgreens is going up against CVS Health and Walmart, which are both beefing up their healthcare strategies as they take on Amazon.

As part of the deal, Walgreens is investing up to $1 billion in VillageMD over the next three years, starting with a $250 million investment.

That'll give Walgreens a 30% stake in the company by the end of the investment and values VillageMD at at least $3.3 billion.

That catapulted the primary care startup onto our list of 20 billion-dollar startups to watch that are revolutionizing healthcare in 2020.

It replaces One Medical as the primary-care representative on the list, after One Medical made its public market debut at the end of January.

One Medical has surged more than 168% since going public. One Wall Street analyst who initiated coverage of the stock on July 1 laid out 4 reasons investors should be skeptical of the hot primary-care company.

As someone who's been tracking the future of the pharmacy and the future of primary care, it's been interesting to see the two intersect with the Walgreens-VillageMD. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on where that arrangement goes from here.

You can read the full story here>>

Walgreens just made a $1 billion bet on bringing doctor's offices into its pharmacies, and it shows how the pharmacy giant is taking on CVS and Walmart as they beef up their health ambitions

Employers like Goldman Sachs and Amazon haven't figured out how to test their employees as part of bringing them back to the office

When it comes to reopening offices, testing is expected to be a critical part of doing it safely. But as Blake Dodge found while talking to some of the biggest companies out there, widespread testing is easier said than done.

After reaching out to 16 companies, Blake found that not many have started testing, with the exception of a few companies that make coronavirus tests.

You can read the full story here>>

America's largest employers like Amazon and Target haven't cracked the code on how to test employees for coronavirus. That spells trouble for reopening the economy and keeping employees safe.

Thoughts, questions, tips? You can find me at, or you can reach the entire team at

And remember - Sign up for daily updates from the healthcare team!

- Lydia


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