Koda Health has raised funding to fuel growth of its digital advance care planning company. Image via kodahealthcare.com

A Houston-born digital advance care planning company, has secured new funding from some big names.

Koda Health achieved a successful oversubscription of additional seed round funding thanks to the participation of AARP, Memorial Hermann Health System, and the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund. The total amount raised was undisclosed, and the round was led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital.

The tech platform improves planning for serious illness treatment and end-of-life care using a cloud-based advance care planning, or ACP, platform that pairs with in-house support. Essentially, it allows patients to do their planning ahead and make sure that their wishes are actually put into action. According to Koda Health, this results in an average of $9,500 saved per-patient, as well as improved health outcomes.

"If we’re looking at speed of market adoption, it’s clear that Koda Health is at the forefront of a crucial transformation in Advance Care Planning," says Tatiana Fofanova, PhD, CEO of Koda Health, in a press release. “In just a few years, we’ve built out a product that now serves well over 700,000 patients nationwide for industry giants like Cigna, Privia and Houston Methodist.”

Dr. Desh Mohan, the chief medical officer for Koda Health says that it was important to the company to create strategic partnerships with its investors. In fact, Memorial Hermann isn’t just helping with funding. The hospital system is also collaborating with Koda on a new pilot project.

“Koda is uniquely positioned to serve payers, providers and patients,” adds William McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center. “We rarely see a company that provides value to all three stakeholders. Seeing Koda launch from our TMCi BioDesign program to the progress they've made with our member institutions and players in the value chain is incredible.”

Beyond the TMC, Koda’s collaboration with AARP goes through the latter’s AgeTech Collaborative. That ecosystem unites founders in the realm of longevity tech to make meaningful change in their field.

"AARP research shows that there is a willingness among older adults in the U.S. to prepare for the end of their lives," says Amelia Hay, VP of Startup Programming and Investments at AgeTech Collaborative. "This indicates a need for more programs and services geared towards ensuring adults take the necessary steps, and AARP is pleased to invest in Koda Health to help address that need."

Koda raised its first seed funding in 2022, a round that totaled $3.5 million. The new round close means that Koda can accelerate its efforts to modernize ACP.

These Houston hospitals are the best in Texas and beyond. Photo via tmc.edu

Houston hospitals soar on annual list ranking best in Texas

top health care

Houston Methodist Hospital now shares its status as the state’s best hospital with Dallas’ UT Southwestern Medical Center.

In U.S. News & World Report’s latest ranking of Texas hospitals, Houston Methodist and UT Southwestern share the No. 1 spot. Last year, Houston Methodist was the lone holder of first-place honors in Texas.

The Houston Methodist system comprises a primary care facility within the Texas Medical Center and six community hospitals across the region. In all, Houston Methodist operates more than 2,600 patient beds and employs more than 29,700 people.

Overall, Houston hospitals fared well in this year’s Texas rankings:

  • Houston Methodist, No. 1
  • Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, No. 3
  • Memorial Hermann Hospital-Texas Medical Center, No. 4
  • Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, No. 6
  • Houston Medical Sugar Land Hospital, No. 9
  • Memorial Hermann Memorial Medical Center, No. 10

Specialty institutions in Houston also garnered accolades.

For instance, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center ranked first in the country for cancer care. Since the inception of the U.S. News & World Report survey in 1990, MD Anderson has been among the country’s top two institutions for cancer care.

“At MD Anderson, we remain singularly focused on eliminating cancer,” Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson, says in a news release. “We are pleased to see this commitment recognized, but there is work still to be done.”

For its part, Houston Methodist nabbed national rankings in 10 specialties, including No. 4 for diabetes and endocrinology and No. 5 for gastroenterology and GI surgery.

Elsewhere in the Houston area:

  • Texas Children’s Hospital nailed down the No. 1 ranking among children’s hospitals in the state.
  • TIRR Memorial Hermann was again ranked as the Best Rehabilitation Hospital in Texas.
  • The Texas Heart Institute at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center claimed the No. 2 ranking among cardiovascular, heart, and vascular surgery facilities in the state.
  • The Menninger Clinic again makes the top 10 psychiatric hospitals. It ranked No. 7 in that specialty.

“A recent survey of U.S. News users revealed more than four in five (84 percent) consider a hospital’s quality metrics to be important factors when deciding where to seek treatment for a serious medical issue,” Ben Harder, chief of health analysis and managing editor at U.S. News, says in a news release. “Consumers want useful resources to help them assess which hospital can best meet their specific care needs.”

Harder adds that his publication’s hospital rankings “offer patients and the physicians with whom they consult a data-driven source for comparing performance in outcomes, patient satisfaction, and other metrics that matter to them.”

Houston's health tech and startup ecosystem has some recent news to catch up on. Photo via Getty Images

Houston health tech startups announce exec, funding — plus more innovation news

SHORT STORIES

Houston startup founders have been moving and shaking in the local innovation ecosystem — from growing their executive boards to raising fresh grant funding.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a startup opens a crowdfunding round, a Houston hospital system taps into new technology, and more.

Coya Therapeutics names new president and chief medical officer

Fred Grossman will assume his new role next week. Photo via LinkedIn

Coya Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: COYA), a revolutionary biotech company based in Houston, named Dr. Fred Grossman as president and chief medical officer. The clinical-stage company, which has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again, announced the closing of its $15.25 million IPO in January.

According to the company, Dr. Grossman's position, which was held by Dr. Adrian Hepner, is effective July 17.

“We are grateful for Dr. Hepner’s leadership and excellence in positioning Coya and look forward to having him continue to collaborate with the company in moving our assets forward," Howard H. Berman, CEO of Coya, says in a news release. "We also welcome Dr. Grossman, who brings decades of clinical development experience and successful execution."

Dr. Grossman has held executive positions at Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, Sunovion, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, and Mesoblast Inc. (NASDAQ: MESO), developing allogeneic cellular therapies for inflammatory diseases.

CellChorus receives another SBIR grant

CellChorus, a biotech startup operating out of the University of Houston Technology Bridge, has secured additional funding. Photo via Getty Images

Fresh off a $2.3 million grant last month, Houston-based CellChorus, a single-cell analysis company, has another grant to celebrate.

The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded CellChorus a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to advance development of its Time-lapse Imaging Microscopy In Nanowell Grids, known as TIMING. The funding will be used to develop novel microscale arrays to support scaling dynamic single-cell analysis.

“This funding will further development of novel arrays to build on the success of our early access laboratory based in Houston,” says Mohsen Fathi, head of technology at CellChorus, in a press release. “This project will support scaling the only platform that can evaluate migration, contact dynamics, killing, survival, subcellular activity, and biomolecule secretion for the same individual cell over time and in high throughput to improve development and delivery of novel therapies.”

According to the release, the company is receiving more than $274,000 as a part of the grant, but CellChorus has the potential of receiving up to $2 million from the second phase.

“This award builds on our recent funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to advance development of a dedicated instrument platform for TIMING,” says Daniel Meyer, CEO of CellChorus, in the release.

Memorial Hermann partners with TMC-backed virtual OB-GYN care

Two Houston-area hospitals now have access to this digital health startup's platform. Photo via Getty Images

The Memorial Hermann Health System has entered into a partnership with Washington, D.C.-based Babyscripts, a virtual care platform for managing obstetrics. The company is backed by the Texas Medical Center's venture fund and has existing ties to the city.

"Memorial Hermann strives to make Greater Houston a place where every woman's pregnancy, delivery and postpartum experience is successful and safe. This innovative partnership is a continuation of that commitment," says Dr. Victoria Regan, vice president of Women's and Children's Services at Memorial Hermann, in a news release.

Now, Memorial Hermann patients will be able to access Babyscripts myJourney, an app that delivers educational content, email campaigns, satisfaction surveys, appointment reminders, and more. The first two hospitals to receive access are Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, with plans to expand the program.

"The ability to access adequate prenatal and postpartum care is one of the largest predictors of maternal and infant health outcomes," says Anish Sebastian, CEO and co-founder of Babyscripts in the release. "With Babyscripts, Memorial Hermann is able to streamline the maternal health experience across their system, adding opportunities for access and providing consistent, high-quality pregnancy care to all patients, regardless of race, income, geography or risk."

Earn Your Freedom launches crowdfunding campaign with Houston nonprofit's support

Earn Your Freedom is looking for financial support from its community. Photo via houston.impacthub.net

Earn Your Freedom, a Houston startup that's gamifying personal finance education, has launched its first crowdfunding campaign in partnership with Impact Hub Houston.

The goal for EYF is to raise $100,000 to support its gaming programs with local schools. Impact Hub Houston is the fiscal sponsor for the raise, which is officially live and open for contributions.

The innovative and interactive web and mobile video game, which officially launched earlier this year to celebrate Financial Literacy Month, was designed to help kids build a strong foundation in money management, economics and investment in a fun and engaging way. It features challenges and real-world scenarios such as renting a first apartment, opening a first bank account, budgeting at the grocery store, buying stocks and index funds and renting or buying real estate.

“We envision a society where financial literacy is accessible to all, and where individuals are enabled with the tools to take control of their financial futures," says Keely McEnery, EYF co-founder and COO, in a press release. "We are bridging the gap between education and application, stepping in before the real-world consequences take place.”

Some 200,000 local clients still have coverage thanks to the agreement. RSM Design

Memorial Hermann and Blue Cross reach crucial agreement for Houstonians

hand shake

Nearly 200,000 Memorial Hermann Hospital patients can take a deep breath after the hospital system announced on Friday, March 11, that it has reached a deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

Memorial Hermann's contract with the state's largest insurer expired at the start of the month after a disagreement over contracting out the hospital's physician's network.

Both organizations announced they no longer had a contract, meaning patients would have to pay out-of-network costs.

After ongoing negotiations, a four-year deal was made, and Blue Cross Blue Shield patients at Memorial Hermann should not experience any further disruption in their care, effective immediately.

"Through determined efforts on both sides, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas has reached an agreement with the Memorial Hermann Health System and its physicians," the insurance provider said in a statement. "The new four-year agreement allows BCBSTX members continued access to Memorial Hermann hospitals throughout the Houston region while expanding future access to Memorial Hermann providers for our Blue Advantage HMO members."

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Front-line and health care workers will get the vaccine first. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

7 Houston-area hospitals receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

CORONAVIRUS NEWS

Four sites in Texas received the COVID-19 vaccine on December 14, part of a rollout of doses being shipped out across the U.S.

Texas received 19,500 doses, with another 250,000 doses being distributed to 109 facilities in Texas this week.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the first four sites to get it were:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston
  • Methodist Dallas Medical Center
  • Wellness 360 at UT Health San Antonio
  • UT Health Austin's Dell Medical School

Another 75,000 doses will be delivered on December 15 to 19 sites in Texas:

  • Houston, Texas Children's Hospital Main
  • Houston, LBJ Hospital
  • Houston, CHI St. Luke's Health
  • Houston, Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center
  • Houston, Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Houston, Ben Taub General Hospital
  • Galveston, University of Texas Medical Branch Hospital
  • Amarillo, Texas Tech Univ. Health Science Center Amarillo
  • Corpus Christi, Christus Spohn Health System Shoreline
  • Dallas, Parkland Hospital
  • Dallas, UT Southwestern
  • Edinburg, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance
  • Edinburg, UT Health RGV Edinburg
  • El Paso, University Medical Center El Paso
  • Fort Worth, Texas Health Resources Medical Support
  • Lubbock, Covenant Medical Center
  • San Angelo, Shannon Pharmacy
  • Temple, Baylor Scott and White Medical Center

Health care and front-line workers will receive the vaccine first. Officials are still working out the timeline but the general public is not expected to get the vaccine until spring 2021 at the earliest.

Dr. Paul Klotman, president of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a press conference that getting vaccinated is helpful to both individuals and their communities.

"The thing about everyone pitching in, do it for yourself because it will help protect you, but when you get the herd immunity it will help protect people who are unable medically to get the vaccine," Klotman said.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston Methodist stood out yet again on an annual best hospitals report, but several other Houston institutions were recognized as well. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

New report recognizes best hospitals in Houston

better than all the rest

Hospitals across Houston were ranked by their patient care, patient safety, outcomes, nursing, advanced technology and reputation in an annual report that identifies the top medical facilities in the country.

U.S. News & World Report released its 31st annual best hospital rankings this week, which included both adult and children's hospital tracks across several categories. The report released both overall and local rankings after evaluating over 4,500 medical centers nationwide in 16 specialties, and 134 hospitals were ranked in at least one specialty.

For the ninth year in a row, the top hospital in Houston and Texas, according to the report, is Houston Methodist, which ranked at No. 20 nationally and made the report's Honor Roll.

"Our U.S. News rankings are especially meaningful right now as this has been an exceptionally difficult time for our health care workers," says Marc Boom, M.D., president and CEO of Houston Methodist, in a news release. "We have always served our community by providing exceptional care — during the COVID-19 pandemic and before. It's a true testament to our commitment to being unparalleled."

Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital tied for No. 4 in Houston and No. 6 (three-way tie) in Texas. Additionally, the hospital was recognized on the top lists for 11 specialties:

  • No. 12 for cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 13 for orthopedics
  • No. 14 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 17 for cancer
  • No. 19 (tie) for nephrology
  • No. 20 for pulmonology and lung surgery
  • No. 23 for neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 26 for geriatrics
  • No. 26 (tie) for gynecology
  • No. 28 for diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 49 for ear, nose and throat

The second-best hospital in Houston on this year's ranking was Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, which was also named the No. 3 hospital in the state.

"At Baylor St. Luke's, we are transforming the way we deliver care for our patients through groundbreaking technologies and a multidisciplinary approach that allows us to give the best possible care to patients and their families," says Doug Lawson, CEO of St. Luke's Health, in a news release. "I praise our dedicated staff and physicians for helping us achieve this recognition."

Baylor St. Luke's also made an appearance across five specialties:

  • No. 17 for cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 21 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 21 for neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 27 for cancer
  • No. 47 for geriatrics

"This is a great report that confirms the efforts of our partnership at Baylor St. Luke's and our affiliated hospitals to provide unsurpassed care to patients, conduct research that will change lives and train the next generation of physicians", says Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO, and executive dean at Baylor College of Medicine. "Baylor St. Luke's high ranking in Texas is in parallel with Baylor College of Medicine being the highest ranked medical school in Texas. Together, we are an outstanding academic medical center and learning health system."

Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center came in No. 3 in Houston and No. 5 in Texas. The hospital ranked in one adult specialty and two children's specialties.

  • No. 43 for ear, nose and throat (adult)
  • No. 22 for cardiology/heart surgery (pediatric)
  • No. 31 for neurology/neurosurgery (pediatric)

On the children's hospital track, Houston's Texas Children's Hospital ranked as No. 4 nationally and was recognized in all 10 pediatric specialties, which included:

  • No. 1 for pediatric cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 2 for pediatric nephrology
  • No. 2 for pediatric neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 3 for pediatric pulmonology and lung surgery
  • No. 4 for pediatric cancer
  • No. 5 for pediatric diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 5 for pediatric gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 6 for pediatric urology
  • No. 10 for neonatology
  • No. 15 for pediatric orthopedics

Zooming in on the specific specialties, several other Houston hospitals in addition to these top tier hospitals, secured spots in the top 10 rankings.

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was ranked No. 1 nationally for adult cancer treatment. Additionally, the hospital made an appearance in six other adult specialties and one pediatric specialty.

  • No. 4 for ear, nose and throat
  • No. 6 for urology
  • No. 14 for gynecology
  • No. 27 for diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 41 for geriatrics
  • No. 46 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 38 for cancer (pediatric)
TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston ranked No. 3 nationally for rehabilitation.
For all 31 years, The Menninger Clinic has been recognized as a top hospital in the psychiatric speciality. This year, the clinic ranked at No. 9 nationally.

"Our clinical teams provide personalized care with the right blend of art and science. We have pioneered measuring the effectiveness of this treatment, and the results consistently demonstrate that patients sustain their well-being for at least a year after they leave Menninger," says Armando Colombo, president and CEO, in a news release. "Going forward, we will improve access to make it easier for more Texans to access these life-changing results."

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3 affordable Houston neighbors rank among America's 10 safest cities

HIGH PRAISE FOR THE 'BURBS

Crime may be a concern for some Houstonians, but life is a little more relaxed just beyond the city limits.

Three Houston-area suburbs – League City, Sugar Land, and Pearland – were just crowned among the top 10 safest and most affordable cities to live in the U.S., as declared in a new report by GoBankingRates.

The study, "50 Safest and Most Affordable US Cities To Live In," ranked the largest U.S. cities by population based on their cost of living and crime rate averages. Crime rates were determined based on the number of crimes per 1,000 city residents from the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer in 2022, the year with the most recent available data.

League City proudly landed in the No. 4 spot nationally, thanks to its low property and violent crime rates as well as a high median household income. Sugar Land and Pearland weren't too far behind in the top 10, ranking No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. The report emphasized these suburbs all offer "vibrant cultural scenes" and strong job markets for adults, along with great schools and abundant recreational activities for families to enjoy.

A League City household makes a median income of $117,316 annually, with an average mortgage cost of $2,216 per month, the report found. The total monthly cost of living in the family friendly city adds up to $4,157.

There were a total of 1,497 property crimes reported in the city in 2022, and 126 total violent crimes. For context, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the population in League City spans more than 116,000 residents in 2023. That means the city's rate for violent crimes is 1.08 per 1,000 residents, and the property crime rate is 12.85 per 1,000 residents, according to the findings.

Sugar Land's median household income is much higher than League City's, at $132,247 per year. However, so were the average mortgage costs ($2,715 per month) and total monthly cost of living ($4,852).

There were 1,745 property crimes and 97 violent crimes reported in Sugar Land in 2022. That would place Sugar Land's property crime rate at 16.16 per 1,000 city residents, and 0.90 violent crimes per 1,000 residents.

Here's how the report breaks down Pearland's cost of living and crime rate statistics:

  • Median household income: $111,123
  • Household average mortgage cost: $2,257
  • Total monthly cost of living: $4,352
  • Property crimes (reported in 2022): 2,152
  • Property crime per 1,000 residents: 17.09
  • Violent crimes (reported in 2022): 117
  • Violent crime per 1,000 residents: .93

Large Texas cities, such as Houston proper, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio, were all noticeably absent in the ranking. This is likely because – as most Texans are aware – bigger cities often have higher crime rates and higher costs of living than their outlying suburbs.

"Choosing a family-friendly place to live is a significant decision that involves a balancing act between safety and affordability in any big city," the report said. "Whether you’re a young professional, a growing family or a retiree, finding real estate where you feel comfortable — both physically and financially — is crucial for a high quality of life."

Other Texas cities that were ranked in the top 25 safest and most affordable places to live include El Paso (No. 11), McKinney (No. 15), Frisco (No. 16), Laredo (No. 18), Grand Prairie (No. 21), Plano (No. 22), Carrollton (No. 23), and McAllen (No. 24).

The top 10 safest and most affordable U.S. cities to live in are:

  • No. 1 – Elgin, Illinois
  • No. 2 – Cary, North Carolina
  • No. 3 – Gilbert, Arizona
  • No. 4 – League City, Texas
  • No. 5 – Rochester, Minnesota
  • No. 6 – Sugar Land, Texas
  • No. 7 – Pearland, Texas
  • No. 8 – Meridian, Idaho
  • No. 9 – Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
  • No. 10 – Olathe, Kansas
The full report and its methodology can be found on gobankingrates.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-based sustainable chemical manufacturing secures $213.6M to support new facility

scaling up

Houston-based Solugen has secured financing from the U.S. Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office to support its mission of producing clean chemicals.

The LPO's $213.6 million loan guarantee will go toward the construction of the company's 500,000-square-foot Bioforge Marshall facility in Southwest Minnesota, which broke ground in April and will produce bio-based chemical products to be used in wastewater treatment, construction, agriculture, and the energy sector. According to Solugen, the facility is expected to reduce annual carbon emissions by up to 18 million kilograms.

"American manufacturing is at a turning point, and we are proud to have the opportunity to work with the DOE in bringing critical chemical production capabilities onshore to communities like Marshall," Gaurab Chakrabarti, CEO of Solugen, says in a news release. "By scaling cutting-edge technologies, we are meeting domestic demand for innovative solutions and setting global standards for sustainable biomanufacturing."

The new facility, originally announced last year, is expected to go online in the fall of 2025 and will create up to 100 temporary construction jobs as well as 56 full-time manufacturing jobs once the facility is up and running.

"Today’s announcement reflects President Biden’s commitment to building a thriving bioeconomy that benefits all Americans and ensures the United States leads the world in emerging biomass industries," the DOE writes in its announcement.

Bioforge Marshall is a scaled-up version of the company's first project, Bioforge Houston, which has been operating since 2021 and will continue to act as Solugen's research and development and innovation center.

"Scaling our Bioforge platform is not only a technological advancement, but a strategic move to fortify the domestic supply chain for critical chemicals," adds Sean Hunt, CTO of Solugen. "This project will serve as a model for how innovative technologies can revive American industries and maintain our competitive edge on a global scale."

Solugen will be required to meet certain DOE standards to move forward with the financing. Additionally, the company has created partnerships with regional educational and workforce development organizations for training and recruiting.

Founded in 2016, the Houston company has raised over $600 million, per Crunchbase, and clinched unicorn status with a $1 billion valuation in 2021. Last month, Solugen ranked at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, and in 2023, Chakrabarti and Hunt were named winners at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.