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An insurer branches out into venture capital

Mutual interest between private equity and the healthcare industry has produced some headline-grabbing deals in recent years: Oak Hill Capital Partner's joint venture with the largest U.S. Catholic health system; venture funds launched by large health systems, including the latest by Rex Healthcare ; and the buyout of a struggling Boston health system by Cerberus Capital Management.

But beyond these flashy deals is an influx of capital into healthcare from private investors, including a string of deals during the past 12 months by the newly formed investment arm of Cambia Health Solutions.

Cambia, a not-for-profit, was previously the Regence Group, an insurer in the Pacific Northwest.

The newly named company now operates two business lines: Regence, which continues to sell health plans, and a division that builds, buys and invests in healthcare companies, its executives said.

Rob Coppedge oversees business development for Cambia. He joined the organization 18 months ago from Faultline Ventures, a venture-capital firm. Coppedge said Cambia's development arm, led by John Morgan, a former Regence director, has hired from investment banks or venture-capital firms.

Experience among its investment team, including his tenure as a biotech and medical device CEO, is valuable to the management of companies in which Cambia invests, said Morgan, who joined the company about a year ago.

Like a venture firm, Cambia has defined where it will and won't invest. Deals won't be limited to those that will solely benefit its insurance business. Cambia will focus its investments on those that will bolster healthcare's economic sustainability—those that curb costs and eliminate waste—and enable consumers to make informed healthcare decisions, Coppedge said. Its health plan and its members will nonetheless benefit from those investments, he added.

Unlike a venture firm, Cambia does not have an investment fund with a definite investment horizon, such as 10 years. That gives the company greater flexibility to pick and choose investments, Coppedge said. He declined to say how much capital Cambia has to invest.

Cambia's latest investment, announced last week, is backing for the data analytics company GNS Healthcare. In the past 12 months, Cambia has also invested in Care Team Connect, a developer of a Web-based care coordination platform, and Rise Health, a primary-care consulting company that has targeted accountable-care development. In the past 18 months the company has also launched two companies developed internally: Sprig Health, an online market for clinic visits, and Hubbub Health, a wellness gaming company.

More deals will follow, Coppedge said.

You can follow Melanie Evans on Twitter: @MHmevans.

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