The inaugural Women at Weill investment competition recently selected Intellihealth, a comprehensive medical obesity treatment platform co-founded by Dr. Katherine Saunders, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, as its first winner.
Hosted by Weill Cornell Medicine's BioVenture eLab in collaboration with AmplifyHer Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in early-stage businesses built by outstanding women, the competition aimed to highlight exceptional women innovators at the academic medical institution. As winner, the Intellihealth team presented at the 2021 Weill Cornell Startup Symposium, which took place virtually in February, and will receive investment funding from AmplifyHer.
"We're really honored and grateful that we were chosen," said Dr. Saunders, who is also an obesity expert at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and a Weill Cornell Medical College alumna. "The majority of our team are women, so it's exciting that we can work with AmplifyHer to empower the women in our company."
"We wanted to create an opportunity to fund and champion women in our ecosystem," said Dr. Jahan Ali, director of the BioVenture eLab, which is part of the Office of BioPharma Alliances and Research Collaborations at Weill Cornell Medicine. "This is the first of several women initiatives we are launching."
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 74 percent of adults over the age of 20 in the United States are overweight or are obese. Dr. Saunders helped establish Intellihealth in 2019 with the purpose of transforming the perception and treatment of obesity. In addition to Dr. Saunders, its founders include CEO Sloan Saunders, who is Dr. Saunders' husband, as well as Dr. Louis Aronne, the Sanford I. Weill Professor of Metabolic Research and professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine who directs the institution's Comprehensive Weight Control Center.
Dr. Saunders became interested in the treatment for people with obesity during the primary care track of her internal medicine residency at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "I had a panel of a few hundred patients, most of whom had excess weight," she said. "I was prescribing them multiple medications for their high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, but I didn't have the resources to help address the underlying cause of most of their health problems: their obesity."
Obesity medicine is an emerging medical specialty with less than 100 fellowship-trained physicians; in 2015, Dr. Saunders became Dr. Aronne's first clinical fellow.
"I think a lot of people can relate that losing weight, and keeping it off, is one of the hardest things that they'll try to do in their life," Dr. Saunders said. "There's so much stigma surrounding obesity as a lifestyle issue. But obesity is a misunderstood medical condition; it's so much more complicated than just calories in, calories out. It's a chronic disease that really requires a comprehensive medical model to manage it."
That's what drove Dr. Saunders to co-found Intellihealth. The company's software platform, Evolve, which launched in 2020, was built to empower healthcare providers to offer clinically proven medical obesity treatment to patients. It has algorithms that generate personalized treatment plans for each patient.
Evolve is integrated with Epic, the electronic health record system used by Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The company has also partnered with several prominent hospitals nationwide.
"What's so exciting about what we're doing is that we are treating obesity as a disease, which is the way that it needs to be treated," said Dr. Saunders, who is also an Intellihealth employee. "And this will also help improve or resolve the over 200 other medical conditions that are weight-related."