Money moves

Foundation donates $15 million to Houston hospital for inflammation program to enhance research and treatment

The Fondren Foundation has given $15 million to Houston Methodist Hospital to create the Fondren Inflammation Collaborative. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

A $15 million gift from the Fondren Foundation is allowing the Houston Methodist Hospital system to create a new entity for wellness.

This donation will enable Houston Methodist to use resources from two existing programs — the Immunology Center and the Food and Health Alliance — to create the Fondren Inflammation Collaborative. The Fondren Foundation expects this program will become a local, regional, and international nexus for the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal and immunological disorders and severe food allergies.

"Patients with these complex conditions often travel from doctor to doctor for years in search of a proper diagnosis and treatment," says Rob Fondren, former chair of The Fondren Foundation, in a release. "Recognizing the challenges faced by these patients and their families, The Fondren Foundation's vision is to close the gap in patient care by building an international destination of hope and relief for people with these complex, often intertwined conditions and their underlying inflammatory triggers. A central hub focused on these debilitating disorders would fill a significant gap in the Texas Medical Center."

Houston Methodist turns 100 this year. The Fondren family has served the hospital throughout its history. Fondren family members have served on the Houston Methodist board as well as councils and task forces.

"Houston Methodist would not be where it is today had it not been for the leadership of the Fondren family," says Marc Boom, Houston Methodist president and CEO, in a release. "There is really no family more unparalleled in the history of Houston Methodist. They have contributed to this institution for essentially 100 consecutive years. It's astonishing and humbling the contributions this family has made generation after generation."

The Fondren Foundation donation to form the Fondren Inflammation Collaborative will pay dividends now and for years to come, according to the release. The donation provides for four endowed chairs, research, education, counseling, and training, which will help the Collaborative achieve its initial goals of finding the link between inflammation and gastrointestinal and immunological health and then running clinical trials with groundbreaking treatments. In the future, the Collaborative will expand its scope to understanding the connection between inflammation and other disease-prone areas of the body.

"We're an organization built on the pillars of success, and we constantly evolve," says Roberta Schwarz, executive vice president, chief innovation officer, in a recent InnovationMap interview. "I can't even tell you where we'll be in a hundred years."

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Building Houston

 
 

Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning. Image via kodahealthcare.com

A new Houston-based digital advanced care planning company is streamlining some of the most difficult conversations in the health care industry around palliative care.

Founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

Koda Health uses a conversational platform where users can enter information about their values, living situations, quality of life wishes, and more while learning about different care options at their own speed. It also uses a proprietary machine learning approach that personalizes audio-video guided dialogue based on the patient's individual and cultural preferences.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fafanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fafanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions."

The app is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year, as it allows for hospitals and organizations to better plan for what their patient population is seeking in end-of-life-care.

The B2B platform was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship, which tasked Koda's founding members with finding solutions to issues surrounding geriatric care in the medical center. In March 2020, Koda incorporated. Not long after ICU beds began to fill with COVID-19 patients, "galvanizing" the team's mission, Fafanova says.

"It was no longer this conceptual thing that we needed to address and write a report on. Now it was that people were winding up in the hospital at alarming rates and none of those individuals had advanced care planning in place," she says.

After accelerating the development of the product, Koda Health is now being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

The company recently received a Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation, which will allow Koda to deploy the platform at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and test it against phone conversations with 900 patients. Fafanova says the company will also use the funds to continue to develop personalization algorithms to improve Kona's interface for users.

"We want to make this a platform that mimics a high quality conversation," she says.

After Koda completes the Phase I pilot program it will then be eligible to apply for a Phase II award of up to $1 million in about a year.

Koda Health was founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry. Photos via kodahealthcare.com

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