Thousands of diseases occur so infrequently that few data are readily available about the patients who have them. RDMD, which launched in 2018 to gather such data to spur more drug research for those patients, has raised $14 million to add 20 more diseases to its platform.
The San Francisco-based startup operates a two-sided network. Information contributed by patients with rare diseases and advocacy groups who are dedicated to advancing research into potential treatments for those conditions is linked with life science companies searching for new drug candidates to add to their pipelines.
“Traditionally these two groups have interacted with each other, but perhaps not on the level surrounding the research, around what patients would find important about the research and what it takes to build a drug program and make a drug program successful,” said CEO Nancy Yu (pictured), who founded the company with Onno Faber, in a phone interview. “So weaving together both those needs in one common platform is really our goal, so we will continue to learn about the needs from both sides and integrate them into our product.”
The company, which announced the Series A round of funding on Thursday, launched about two years ago with $3 million in seed financing. RDMD’s formation was prompted by Faber’s diagnosis with neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a rare genetic condition that causes the growth of benign tumors that can damage hearing. He serves as the company’s chairman. NF2, believed to affect 1 in 33,000 people worldwide, is among the many conditions that occur in only thousands of patients, but collectively impact nearly one in 10 people, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. (The FDA last week approved the first treatment for neurofibromatosis type 1, the more common form of the condition. The AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) drug is designed to block tumor growth.)
About 7,000 rare diseases are believed to exist, although that figure is difficult to pin down exactly because most are not tracked, and countries have different definitions of what qualifies as a rare disease. In the US, a disease is considered rare if fewer than 200,000 people in the country are affected, for example, while in the European Union, the cutoff is fewer than 1 in 2,000 people.
RDMD says its technology provides a way for patients and families affected by these disorders to participate in research from home, and that from the data, it can generate “deep clinical evidence” to accelerate rare disease research and drug development.
Since it launched with a focus on neurofibromatosis, the 15-person startup has built out communities around 11 more conditions, in each of which the company is working with related patient advocacy organizations and physician consortiums. Within a year’s time, it aims to have more than 30 conditions. The company says it has more than 1,000 users and, on their behalf, acquired patient medical information from more than 1,500 hospitals.
The money from RDMD’s latest cash infusion will facilitate that expansion, Yu says. Spark Capital, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that has backed startups such as virtual reality hardware and software maker Oculus, Twitter (NYSE: TWTR), and e-commerce furniture and home-goods seller Wayfair (NYSE: W), led the financing. Earlier investors Lux Capital, Village Global, and Garuda Ventures also participated, as well as new investor Maveron Capital, which backs consumer-facing startups.
Angel investors, including executives from health tech, biopharma, and tech companies and from patient foundations also invested. As part of the deal, Spark’s Nabeel Hyatt, a general partner at the firm, joins RDMD’s board of directors.
Yu says proceeds will also go toward launching research studies corresponding with each of the new conditions, expanding its reach from the US and Canada into Europe, and adding new hires.
The company also announced Thursday a new partnership, with UCB. For up to five years the Belgium-based biopharma company will use RDMD’s platform to advance its drug discovery and development efforts in progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurodegenerative disease. Terms weren’t disclosed.