Medicare Advantage insurer Clover Health is launching a business to develop more effective medicines for elderly patients with chronic diseases.
The subsidiary, called Clover Therapeutics, hopes to involve its members in voluntary research programs to better understand the genetic drivers of their chronic conditions so it can create tailored therapies.
"We think we can do more than just coordinating care," said Cheng Zhang, who is heading up the new business. "If we are able to elevate the standard of care, meaning developing new medicines and better, more effective medicines, that could really result in even better outcomes."
San Francisco-based Clover Therapeutics will first take aim at eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, in part because about a third of Clover patients have some form of vision impairment, Zhang said. But down the road, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases are also areas the company may focus on.
Marcel van der Brug, the chief scientific officer for Clover Therapeutics, said the drugs on the market today target a specific type of age-related macular degeneration that affects just a sliver of patients with the disease.
"So there's a huge unmet need there," van der Brug said.
That plus the fact that ocular diseases are often driven by genetic factors give Clover a chance to understand the molecular drivers of the disease and create a novel drug to reach the broader population that doesn't respond to what's available, he explained.
Clover is partnering with biotech company Genentech, which is owned by Roche, to research and develop the drugs. Zhang explained that Clover will be involved in designing the clinical studies, collecting and analyzing data and making its own discoveries.
Clover has previously showed an interest in expanding its members' access to targeted medicines. Last year, the insurer announced it would start providing genetic testing to patients in their homes to make sure they receive the most-effective drug combinations and avoid averse effects.
Just a few months ago, Clover announced plans to lay off about a quarter of its workforce to make room for experts in clinical care and insurance, according to several media reports.
Clover has not set any goals related to how many drugs it will produce. Zhang said the company's focus is not on developing drugs to produce revenue. The focus is on patient outcomes.
"This is really about how do we better care for our patients, and we really think that research can be a form of clinical care. It can be integrated as such," Zhang said. "As an organization, what we are focusing on is trying to maximize the benefits of research for patients as well as families, as well as others like them."