Going with our gut: backing two trailblazing healthcare startups

Gayathri (G) Radhakrishnan | August 2021

When it comes to healthcare investments, the Micron Ventures team is just getting started. Our team is always on the hunt to find startups who are truly innovative in their application of AI and Machine Learning (ML) across various problem domains. We are fascinated by the endless possibilities in healthcare & life sciences.

Our mission is simple: Unleash technology's most innovative startups. Investments in healthcare are a newer focus for Micron, and many entrepreneurs ask us, “Why does a semiconductor company want to invest in us?” As a technology leader powering some of the biggest data transformations, we at Micron believe in genuine innovation through AI— and we are discerning, but steadfast in supporting groundbreaking work with potential to change, or even save lives.

Recently, we announced our investment in two healthcare startups focused on innovations in gastrointestinal health. DayTwo leverages microbiome data combined with AI to manage chronic metabolic conditions (like diabetes, pre-diabetes, and clinical obesity) through food instead of expensive pharmaceuticals. Iterative Scopes brings cutting-edge precision medicine to gastroenterology, changing the game for endoscopic video analysis, which in its current state is known for being subjective; a costly matter when making decisions about health.

1 in 3 Americans have pre-diabetes

You read that right: 88M adults in the US have pre-diabetes. 34M Americans have diabetes, which constitutes 10.5% of the US population. The costs are not cheap: 1 in every 7 health care dollars is spent on diabetes and its complications1. Many companies in the space are looking to tackle metabolic diseases, but most methods employ a mix of pharmaceuticals while also requiring people to adhere to diets that eliminate or strictly limit intake of carbohydrates. This typically means radical changes to dietary habits. What happens then? People struggle to adhere to the guidance they’re given. Habits are hard to break.

What if food is the answer?

Imagine the possibilities if we weren’t expected to give up the foods we loved, but rather learned how to add foods that would help us achieve the glycemic balance we need? DayTwo is applying AI to microbiome data and a combination of other biomarkers to help people manage diabetes through food instead of expensive pharmaceuticals. Microbiome sampling and analysis is a hot topic in medicine; researchers are studying the benefits of how such samples can inform health diagnosis and care. The microbiome is incredibly complex, comprising more than 100 trillion organisms. Analysis of a person’s gut flora could take lifetimes; but the combination of advanced computing hardware combined with AI has reduced this task to minutes.

DayTwo’s science is living proof that food is medicine. The program enables people to make small tweaks to their existing meals in order to keep blood sugar in the healthy range. People respond differently to the same food. Let’s say you and your best friend meet up for breakfast every morning. It’s a ritual and it brings you joy. You eat the same dish —but your individual blood sugar levels will vary. Maybe your glucose will spike and your friend’s will not. Instead of advising you to cut that favorite meal out of your diet completely, DayTwo could suggest minor tweaks such as adding walnuts to yogurt, or butter to rice, that will neutralize your blood glucose spikes — all based on your unique microbiome.

Why did Micron invest?

DayTwo is the only known microbiome based solution that has demonstrated sustainable outcomes in both clinical and real world settings. And that’s just the beginning. The gut microbiome impacts a multitude of health conditions such as diabetes, pre-diabetes, obesity and many other disease conditions. Advancements are so rich that in the near future when you go for a routine wellness checkup, they just might collect a sample of your microbiome along with blood and urine.

To predict blood sugar responses to any food, scientists need a high-resolution view of the microbiome and a dataset large enough to make accurate predictions. DayTwo holds the world's largest and richest proprietary gut microbiome dataset and has tremendous opportunities to apply its science and IP to improve outcomes for other diseases. The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) “All of Us” initiative aims to collect data, including microbiome samples, from more than 1 million people to benefit precision medicine. NIH recently cited DayTwo’s science as a foundation for its precision nutrition research. To learn more about DayTwo’s innovative microbiome solution, visit their website.

Detecting the second most deadly cancer in the US is highly subjective

Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the US2. It is expected to increase by 60% to more than 2.2 million new cases and 1.1 million cancer deaths by 20303. Endoscopies are the gold standard for screening for colorectal cancer, but during screening 20% of polyps are missed4. Current endoscopic procedures are based largely on clinical intuition and produce highly subjective results, leading to wide variations in interpretation. Endoscopies are subjective and there are many types of abnormal polyps, which can be quite small and easy to miss with the human eye. If the clinician misses something as they are doing the procedure, there’s no way to go back and find it.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is an umbrella term to indicate chronic inflammation of your digestive tract and includes Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis, which collectively impact approximately 3M people in the US. The severity of the condition is measured using a scoring technique called Mayo Endoscopic Score (MES). The physician who performs the endoscopy or the one reviewing the recorded endoscopy video may rate disease activity using this scoring index. It was developed in 1987 to assess initial disease severity, change in activity over time, and response to treatment. Unfortunately, this scoring technique is highly subjective and does not truly capture the pain experienced by the patient.

Swapping intuition for data-backed insight

Outstanding advancements have been made in oncology and infectious diseases, why not gastroenterology? Iterative Scopes has developed a polyp detection algorithm, SKOUT, that assists clinicians in identifying hard to see polyps, enhancing the accuracy of their decisions. SKOUT puts a bounding box around polyps to bring it to the clinician’s attention live during the procedure. It’s a vast oversimplification to call this technology GPS for the gut, but if you’ve ever been on the road and thought to yourself, ‘I never would have found this without GPS,’ there’s definitely something to the analogy.

When it comes to IBD, it’s so subjective to score the severity that there are many missed opportunities for clinical trial candidates. It is difficult to monitor the efficacy of various treatments since it’s a syndrome — not just one set of symptoms, so both clinical trial selection and treatment analyses are extraordinarily subjective. Iterative Scopes has automated the interpretation of colonoscopy videos and can assist both in patient selection for clinical trials and for understanding pharmaceutical efficacy.

ventures-blog-secondaryimage.jpg: group of "initiative scopes" people in front of their office

Iterative Scopes team featured in the image above

Why did Micron invest?

Colonoscopy videos are not usually recorded or stored; however, Iterative Scopes has scaled data acquisition to yield the largest collection of such annotated data. This matters because ML technologies depend heavily on solid training data to achieve a higher level of accuracy. Iterative Scopes focuses on both Colorectal Cancer and IBD and has potential to impact a large population. Gastroenterology has not seen as much innovation as other disciplines have leveraging machine learning to enable precision medicine. Iterative Scopes has the strength of the team and advisory board combined with pharma partners such as Eli Lilly and JJDC, because of this, we believe that they have the combined technology and brain trust to drive a meaningful impact in the world of gastroenterology. To learn more about Iterative Scopes, visit their website.

At the end of the day, the gut is one of the last truly uncharted territories in the human body. With progress being made by companies like DayTwo and Iterative Scopes, we look forward to potential future advancements that uncover the depths of the gut–brain axis, one of the most powerful relationships in the body.

If you are a tech-first startup leveraging AI to innovate, check out our Micron Ventures page to see what we’re looking for — and don’t be shy about reaching out to us!

1 Cost of Diabetes

2 Colon cancer 2nd leading cause of cancer related death

3 Global patterns and trends in colorectal cancer incidence and mortality - PubMed (nih.gov)

4 Miss rate of colorectal neoplastic polyps in consecutive colonoscopies

Senior Director, Corporate Development

Gayathri Radhakrishnan

G is with Micron Ventures, investing from our AI fund. She invests in startups that use AI and ML to solve critical problems in manufacturing, health care, automotive and beyond. She brings 20 years of multidisciplinary experience across product management, product marketing, corporate strategy, M&A and venture investments.