Startups turn meals into medicine

You are what you eat. Victor Lindlahr's book of the same name popularized this phrase in the 1940s. Although his catabolic diet is criticized by experts today, science agrees that diet has a significant influence on health and performance.

Illustration: Mary Delaney
Illustration: Mary Delaney

Metabolism-hacking startups

The process by which the body converts everything we eat and drink into energy is called metabolism. Until a few years ago, optimizing metabolism was reserved for super-athletes, who have medical staff to monitor their metabolism and adjust their diet accordingly. 

The most important parameter to monitor is the blood glucose level. For a few years now, startups have allowed us all to get this super-athlete treatment: 

  • The 2019-founded U.S.-based startup Supersapiens is targeting sportsmen (and women) with a glucose monitoring patch. The company raised $13.5 million in April 2021. 
  • Levels offers a similar biowearable and app, but focuses on health- and fitness-oriented consumers instead of super-athletes. The startup was also founded in 2019 and is backed by the infamous venture capital firm Andreessen & Horowitz.
  • The European startup Hello Inside is another startup in the continuous glucose monitoring field. Check our interview with their Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Latz
  • The Tel Aviv-based startup Lumen takes a different approach with a device that measures metabolism in a single breath and provides daily personalized nutrition based on your metabolic data in a companion app. Lumen was founded in 2014 and has raised $17.3 million to date. 

As our shortlist shows, there are various players in this field. However, as is often the case, the biggest threat to each of them comes from Big Tech. According to rumors, it is only a matter of time before the Apple Watch will also be able to measure blood glucose levels non-invasively. This would mean that Apple Watch users would no longer need a dedicated wearable. 

Cancer-fighting meals

Most glucose monitoring startups stay out of the regulated healthcare market. This isn’t the case for Faeth Therapeutics. The startup wants to utilize metabolism in the fight against cancer. 

Their vision is personalized nutrition for cancer patients, designed to deprive tumors of the nutrients they need to grow, while providing optimal nutritional support for healthy tissues.

Early studies suggest that certain foods may have an impact on the growth of cancer cells and increase the effectiveness of cancer therapies. Faeth has now raised a $20 million seed round to bring this research into the clinical stage.

The bigger picture

Of course, the glucose monitoring startups are miles away from true medical applications, and Faeth still has a long way to go toward the market. 

But from our perspective, evidence suggests that the potential of food in the medical context remains largely untapped. And tech can be the catalyst for utilizing food even more effectively in the medical context.

Few markets in the world are bigger than the healthcare market. The food market is one such case. What we are seeing here is another indication of the blurred lines between these two markets enabled by technology.

MedTech Pulse is a newsletter publication on innovation at the intersection of technology and medicine. Stay ahead with unique perspectives on industry news, the latest startup deals, infographics, and inspiring conversations.

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