SAN FRANCISCO — The three-martini lunch may be on the decline, but many big companies still reward their C-suite with that traditional corporate perk: getting poked and prodded as part of an executive physical that can carry a five-digit price tag.
Now, a Silicon Valley startup wants to reimagine these medical workups by offering a version for a broader audience, one that would run 75 minutes and have patients undergo an MRI scan and genetic analysis, among other testing.
“You can pay $20,000 and go to Mayo and spend a weekend there. But that’s not ever really going to be scalable,” said Jeffrey Kaditz, co-founder and CEO of Q Bio, which announced on Thursday that it raised $40 million from leading Silicon Valley venture capital investors.
Q Bio is interested in a different question, Kaditz said: “What is the most valuable information we can collect about your body, in as short a period of time as possible, as efficiently as possible, and non-invasively as possible?”
It will still not be cheap. The price for a yearlong membership to Q Bio’s service starts at $3,500 out of pocket, with more comprehensive options available for $6,500 and $15,000.
By comparison, major U.S. hospitals offer executive physical packages ranging from $1,700 to $10,000, according to a research letter published in JAMA last year. The most famous of the bunch is the Mayo Clinic’s executive health program, founded more than four decades ago; its price tag varies based on factors including age and family history. Then there’s Human Longevity Inc., the company formerly led by the genomics pioneer Craig Venter, which in 2015 launched an extraordinarily in-depth $25,000 physical.
When people sign up for Q Bio’s service, the startup asks them to list their health care providers as well as clinics and hospitals where they’ve been seen; the company then aggregates and digitizes those records. Two weeks after the exam, the company generates a report based on the results of the MRI as well as testing of blood, urine, and saliva samples.
The report, which can be used by the customer’s health care providers, surfaces the most important — and potentially concerning — findings up top. Q Bio wants people to undergo follow-up exams so that changes in their baseline can be tracked over time.
That approach may draw criticism.
Experts say there is not strong evidence that such testing and monitoring offer widespread health benefits, or that it can save the health care system money over time. There’s also the risk of false positives, if something turned up in a medical workup leads to unnecessary and potentially harmful follow-up testing or medical interventions.
Q Bio’s service stands in contrast to the approach more commonly seen in medicine, in which patients are compared to population distributions and population norms, said Vijay Pande, the general partner at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz who led Q Bio’s new Series B funding. “That makes sense when you don’t have a baseline for yourself,” Pande said.
Q Bio’s approach, on the other hand, recognizes that “you can actually be within tolerance of a population norm, but be way out of scope for your personal norm,” Pande said. He said he’s optimistic that that approach, along with the wide range of measurements the company is collecting, has potential to dramatically minimize false positives.
Kaditz said the company tried to be conservative in deciding which things in the body to monitor, opting to capture only that which could be measured in a reproducible way and would be useful for doctors. For example, Q Bio steered clear of measuring the microbiome. And in contrast to competing medical workups that pitch whole genome sequencing, Q Bio decided to analyze a panel of just 147 genes.
One of Q Bio’s co-founders is Michael Snyder, a Stanford geneticist who has been an evangelist — and a human guinea pig — for an approach to precision medicine involving intensive health tracking over time. Last year, Synder and his team reported results from a longitudinal study of 109 people who underwent an initial intensive physical and genetic analysis — and then provided blood and other samples every quarter for a number of years. The researchers identified more than 67 “clinically actionable health discoveries.”
Q Bio, founded in late 2015, came out of “stealth mode” on Thursday. Kaditz wouldn’t say how many people have paid to get exams since the Q Center opened in Silicon Valley late last year, but he said demand — from locals and people who have flown in — has been so high the company had to create a waiting list.
Kaditz said there have been instances in which executives who have paid for a membership for themselves have proceeded to decide to cover it as a benefit for their C-suite or other employees. He wouldn’t say how often that’s happened.
With the new funds announced on Thursday, the company plans to open additional Q Centers in other U.S. cities and to invest in trying to line up deals with employers to cover memberships for their employees.