UnitedHealth Group, the largest health insurer in the United States, is purchasing PatientsLikeMe, a health technology firm, just months after it became public that the Trump administration was forcing the tech startup into a fire sale over concerns that its largest investor was Chinese.
“UnitedHealth Group and PatientsLikeMe are committed to using technology and innovation to help people live healthier lives and help make the health system work better for everyone,” UnitedHealthGroup said in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating on patient-first research and building upon the supportive communities patients have come to rely on.” PatientsLikeMe will be part of UnitedHealth Group Research & Development, an independent unit that aims to “transform the healthcare system through research and innovation,” UnitedHealth said.
The terms of the deal were not reported. The news was first reported by MobiHealthNews.
PatientsLikeMe was founded in 2004. It pairs a social network, where patients connect with other people with the same condition using technology that makes it easier for patients to track and share their symptoms and for the company to do research on diseases. In the past few years, PatientsLikeMe data have been used to run a study that indicated a soy-derived supplement did not benefit ALS patients, that financial hurdles made it difficult for patients with multiple sclerosis to access new medicine, and that being on a plane does not make it more likely that a person will cry during a movie.
In 2017, iCarbonX, a Chinese firm focused on genetic research, and Invus Group, a New York firm, invested $100 million in PatientsLikeMe. The plan was to use iCarbonX’s machine learning and genomics capabilities to learn from what patients reported.
PatientsLikeMe’s chairman, Jamie Heywood, said at the Convergence Forum in May that the company had collected samples from 2,200 patients and that the effort was going well. But then the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a federal interagency group that can block deals deemed to pose a threat to national security, expressed concerns about Chinese investors having access to U.S. patient data. The only solution was for iCarbonX to sell its stake. The news of the forced sale became public in April.
“The financial side is going to be devastating both for us and iCarbonX, but I think I’m going to be able to continue the program,” Heywood said at the Convergence Forum. “What I struggle with is … if we can’t collaborate to improve human health with people who have done so credibly and well, well, I don’t know what we’re going to do as a world.”