By Jessie Tu
The largest local health-tech funding round this year has been taken out by Manuri Gunawardena’s Aussie health-tech platform startup HealthMatch.
Gunawardena, the CEO and founder of the Sydney-based startup, raised $18 million in funding from investors including capital market company Square Peg Capital, Venture capital Tempus Partners and Singapore-based January Capital. The family office of Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull also pitched in, with Lucy joining HealthMatch as an advisor.
The young entrepreneur said 2020 has been an “incredibly rewarding year… not just see thousands of patients signup and access clinical trials but to see this translate to quicker recruitment outcomes for medical research.”
“Not only are patients gaining access to potentially revolutionary new treatments but we are seeing evidence of increasing the speed of the entire drug development process,” she said in a statement.
A few years ago, Gunawardena began to think about building a platform that could inform and match patients with ongoing research into their health condition, to make it easier for researchers to fill their trials. Users enter their personal information such as their name, date of birth, sex, location – and then answer a series of questions related to clinical trials that are currently open for applications.
In 2017, Gunawardena teamed up with a colleague to build their first prototype of what is now HealthMatch. She took her idea to TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Australia and won her pitch. Two years later, she official launched HealthMatch and by the end of the year, had pulled in $6 million in venture capital funding.
Today, her platform is transforming the $1 billion Australian clinical trials industry by continuing to match people with chronic or severe conditions with clinical trials for conditions such as eczema, cancer and mental health. Since July, HealthMatch has grown its user base to over 80,000 members.
The company is now matching roughly 2000 patients each month to clinical trials for researchers and major pharmaceutical companies.
Last month, HealthMatch partnered with the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation to create #ThePreventionPact, which encourages companies to prioritise screening for their employees and, if needed, provide them with an hour and a half of flexible time to ensure they are up-to-date. The campaign has seen over 40 organisations such as Uber, Tik Tok and Canva sign up in support.
The campaign has also been endorsed by Professor Ian Frazer, co-inventor of the HPV vaccine which is currently being used worldwide to help prevent cervical cancer.
“The more regular we screen, the more lives saved. It’s as simple as that,” Gunawardena told Sophie Goulopoulos earlier this month.
“There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had an impact, forcing many Australian women to make their own health a low priority compared to juggling jobs, families and the ongoing concerns of the pandemic. Couple this with the fact that a third of women feel awkward or embarrassed, it’s no wonder going for a screening can often find its way to the bottom of the to-do list.”
Breaking ground in Australia has only encouraged Gunawardena to expand into overseas markets. She recently told Information Age journalist Casey Tonkin she is optimistic that the platform will work at an international scale.
“Australia’s got some pretty strict laws and guidelines around privacy and data security so we’re lucky that we’ve started from a position of fairly tight regulation and as we expand through different geographies, that’s something to keep in mind,” she said.
In an official statement, the 26-year old entrepreneur said she and her team are “determined to build a product that focussed firstly on the patient experience and we are now seeing the value of this.”
“We have a crystal clear roadmap of how we can continue to deliver on this vision and expand our benefit to patients. We have global ambitions to be a champion for patients in their healthcare journey.”
Last year, the former UNSW Medicine student was named a Forbes Asia 30 Under 30. She told StartUp Daily she’d planned on becoming a surgeon when she began her tertiary education but changed her mind once she realised the lack of access sick patients were being given to potentially life-saving clinical trials.
“Finding eligible patients for clinical trials is a critical and complex part of new drug discovery, yet patients are missing out on trials simply because the application process is too complicated,” Gunawardena said.
“Using simple questions connected to a powerful data-centre, HealthMatch’s platform increases the likelihood of patients getting offered trials for which they are medically eligible.“