Type 2 diabetes is rampant in the United States, where an estimated 28 million adults have it. It’s the country’s seventh-leading cause of death and costs an annual $245 billion in direct medical costs and lost productivity, according to the American Diabetes Association. The burden of diabetes creates a maelstrom in the lives of patients, their families, and the healthcare system.
According to early research, Virta Health – a San Francisco-based, online specialty medical clinic founded by Trulia cofounder Sami Inkinen – may be able to reverse type 2 diabetes safely and sustainably, without medications or surgery by getting patients diet and weight under control.
The new tech start-up came to fruition when Inkinen, a globally top-ranked triathlete, was told by his doctor that despite his high intensity training level he was at risk for type 2 diabetes because of his carbohydrate rich diet. That lead Inkinen to dive deep into the disease.
Inkinen and renowned doctor-scientists Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek drew on decades of research to support the launch of a two-year clinical trial to build Virta. The early results are promising. After ten weeks, 87% of patients eliminated or reduced the need for insulin, 75% showed clinically significant weight loss, and patients saw a 1.1 point reduction in HbA1c levels. Trial participant retention levels remain above 90%.
Virta is driving two major innovations. First, researchers attest that Virta’s science takes a highly individualized approach to carbohydrate intake and nutritional ketosis (when a body burns fat as its primary fuel source instead of glucose). And second, Virta’s technology platform and artificial intelligence enable continuous, remote care and ongoing personalization of each patient’s care plan, delivered online by Virta physicians and health coaches.
These innovations allow Virta to deliver the type of high-engagement, personalized care required to reverse type 2 diabetes safely and sustainably. The clinic does this by providing physician supervision, a dedicated health coach, app and biomarker tracking tools, a community of peers, and a personalized nutrition and care plan, Inkinen said.
The company has so far pulled in $37 million in funding, “Our mission is to reverse diabetes in 100 million people by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal, but we’re motivated every day by the lives we’ve changed,” Inkinen said.