There aren’t many sectors that are as ripe for disruption as healthcare. This is because while there has been many big leaps forward in the way we have diagnosed diseases in the past century, there is still a lot of room for innovation earlier in the healthcare process.
Despite an increased importance being shone on wellbeing around the globe (just look at the rise in kombucha over fizzy drinks, the gym and yoga culture in New Zealand, and the many companies rolling out wellbeing policies) for many, professional healthcare remains a reactive exercise, rather than proactive one.
We feel unwell, we have a medical professional look at our symptoms, prescribe us medication, and often, the conversation and any deeper analysis into what’s causing our ailments stops there.
But times may be changing as new technologies emerge and make personalised care more readily accessible to the general public, rather than a privileged few. The way people prevent, diagnose and cure diseases is in for an overhaul, and patient empowerment is at the forefront of this movement.
As Jeroen Tas, chief executive of Connected Care and Health Informatics at Philips writes in The Telegraph: “The present healthcare system is essentially a sickcare system, built in the middle of the last century. Although there’s been tremendous progress on medical diagnosis and treatments, care delivery hasn’t structurally changed much. It’s still largely bricks and mortar where people who are sick or acutely ill come to be seen and treated by medically trained people. It was never designed to deal with the huge growth of chronic disease which now represents well over 80 percent of all healthcare spend.”
This is certainly the case in New Zealand, as despite healthcare advancements, the Ministry of Health found that disease was the leading cause of death in this country in 2015, including cancer, heart disease, strokes, bronchitis and asthma.
One of the local players in this space hoping to change up the way people look after their health is Edison, which launched in September last year. Its goal? To help people monitor their health in an incredibly detailed way – right down to their DNA molecules – and more ambitiously, by extending their life span.
Its name is inspired by American inventor and businessman Thomas A. Edison, who said in 1903, “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
Co-founder and CMO Rich Tangney says the idea came about from him and co-founder and CEO Jay Harrison working in the corporate health sector, as they saw a gap in the healthcare market for busy executives and business owners that were concerned about their health.
“The standard ‘annual medical’ is a popular service in the executive health space, but none of the existing providers delivers risk management programmes, nor do they provide truly personalised, whole body health and wellness interventions, let alone remote biometric risk monitoring programmes or services,” Tangney says.
“We saw this as just closing the loop and solving a problem that all executives face after a medical: what to do if the numbers are not looking right? Arguably, Edison offers the most comprehensive, turn-key service available.”
The Edison team, from left: CEO and co-founder Jay Harrison, medical director Dr Brett Gerrard, clinic director Dr Ula Heywood and director and co-founder Richie Tangney.
He says they soon realised that isn’t just corporate executives who are interested in an in-depth analysis of their wellbeing – other parties came knocking too.
“Health-conscious individuals and insurance companies have been just as interested,” he says.
Edison’s process starts off with a one-off medical evaluation of a patient that includes personalised genetic profiling, a biomarker (a biologic feature that can be used to measure the presence or progress of disease, or the effects of treatment) evaluation, a physical evaluation, and 3D body imaging.
From this, the company generates a detailed health report that covers off many areas of a person’s health, such as their body’s cellular age, an analysis of their DNA and how it relates to their health and wellbeing, neurocognitive profiling (such as looking at stress, anxiety and depression) and more.
This deep dive into a person’s DNA and what can be done to improve their health is what Edison is predicting is the future of healthcare. Gene expression, or epigenetics, relates to how people’s genes are edited through environmental factors, such as diet, stress, sleep, nutrition and exercise.
Or as Dr Deepak Chopra and Dr Rudolph Tanzi state in Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being: “Only 5 percent of disease-related gene mutations are fully deterministic, while 95 percent can be influenced by diet, behaviour, and other environmental conditions. You are not simply the sum total of the genes you were born with. You are the user and controller of your genes, the author of your biological story. No prospect in self-care is more exciting.”
According to Grand View Research, the global epigenetics market is worth betting on, considering it’s predicted to hit US$22 billion by 2025.
After Edison completes a patient’s analysis, it crafts an ongoing plan that has lifestyle and behavioural recommendations to help them achieve their desired health outcomes, while monitoring their health constantly through the Oura Ring, a piece of wearable tech that tracks the bio-markers of the person 24/7.
“Edison taps into the convergence of three core trends: genetic profiling, wearable technology and proactive health care,” Tangney says. “We have integrated these ideas into what we call the Edison Protocol and firmly believe that this is the future of personal health.”
In terms of costs, Edison’s baseline product starts at $2499 for a targeted report and solution based on genetic profiles.
Tangney says one of the key differences with Edison versus a GP is its physicians make highly personalised lifestyle ‘prescriptions’ rather than medication-based prescriptions, but they still work closely with a patient’s GPs to build a complete perspective on the patient.
The company has been 100 percent self-funded to this point, with Tangney saying early-stage, forward-thinking clients have meant the business has been able to bootstrap itself and grow organically.
Currently, 70 percent of its current client base is corporate, including large companies such as AMP, Delta Insurance, Spark, Southern Cross and First NZ Capital. Its smaller clients are primarily in the tech sector, Tangney says.
As for what the future holds for Edison, he says currently, the company focused on building its user experience and client base within New Zealand, but the big, audacious goal is to become a globally recognised precision health brand.
“We have global aspirations with our sights on future cities, i.e. Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Hong Kong and London,” Tangney says.
“Edison is a company committed to a binary mission: the extension of human health-span and life-span using precision health and technology.”