HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 59
Houston startup is fostering the future of chronic disease prevention and treatment
A family illness got Jani Tuomi thinking — why does treatment of chronic conditions seem like too little, too late? When his brother fell ill, he wondered if more could have been done preemptively.
"The doctors were really good at treating him — but the question I had was why couldn't we have screened for this in advance," Tuomi says on this week's episode if the Houston Innovators Podcast.
He entertained his intuition and started researching, which transitioned into co-founding imaware, a digital health platform that focuses on early identification of chronic conditions — such as diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune issues. What Tuomi and his team found was that these chronic diseases come with biomarkers you can measure before you see symptoms.
Now, imaware exists to provide at-home blood tests for everything from heart health and allergies to thyroid and arthritis screening. And, as COVID-19 was emerging as an international threat across January and February, Tuomi says his team quickly jumped on a way to provide at-home coronavirus testing.
"Right away there was an amazing reception," Tuomi says, adding that big companies were looking to provide their employees on-site training. "There was way more need for testing than supply was available."
Imaware formed strategic partnerships with other Texas companies, including Austin-based startup Wheel — the telemedicine partner. Basically, users take a quick assessment online and if they are high risk, a health care worker is deployed to the patient's site to conduct the test. Once finished, the lab analyzes the sample and telemedicine professionals reach out with results and next steps.
Business for imaware has been booming, and Tuomi has had to scale his business virtually amid the pandemic. Imaware also has an office in Austin, which is focused on the digital side of business.
Looking forward, Tuomi says he's planning on zooming in on the various ways patients were affected by COVID-19, and this summer imaware formed a partnership with Texas A&M University researchers to begin that investigation. Tuomi says he doesn't expect the finalized data until early next year, but what he says the research seems to show is people reacted differently to the disease, and those reactions seem to relate to underlying or chronic conditions — the same conditions imaware has developed early testing for.
"Before COVID, imaware's mission was to identify individuals with chronic conditions earlier, so we're going to double down on our tests," Tuomi says.
Tuomi shares more about the lessons learned from turning around the COVID test so quickly, as well as some of the ways the pandemic has affected the health care industry as a whole. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.