James McCarter, senior entrepreneur in residence at Cortex-based BioGenerator, is leading the research department of a new tech company that could drastically improve the lives of millions of people who suffer from Type 2 diabetes.
McCarter describes the company, San Francisco-based Virta Health, as an online diabetes reversal clinic. Virta replaces traditional diabetes care by providing patients with online video-chats with physicians, dedicated health coaches who can recommend customized diet plans, a library of educational material, and an online peer-to-peer community.
“We’ve demonstrated in a clinical trial that we can actually take somebody with Type-2 diabetes who’s on multiple medications and get them off their medication and get their glucose back under control and restore them to metabolic health,” McCarter said.
Type 2 diabetes affects about 30 million people in the U.S, and it accounts for $176 billion in annual direct medical costs. Battling the disease is a daily task. But it’s usually too expensive or impractical for patients to visit their doctors more than a few times per year.
“Developing remote care models is going to be the key if we’re going to have some sort of impact on improving glucose control for the millions of people with diabetes,” Martin J. Abrahamson, an endocrinologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said in a New York Times article about Virta Health. “It’s a much more scalable model than seeing people in a doctor’s office.”
Taking a look at McCarter’s resume, it’s no surprise he’s at the forefront of a groundbreaking healthcare company. About 25 years ago, McCarter moved to St. Louis from Chicago to obtain his M.D. and Ph.D. in developmental biology and genetics from Washington University. While completing a postdoctoral fellowship, he founded the biotech firm Divergence, which he built up for about a decade before it was acquired by Monsanto.
In 2012, McCarter joined Monsanto’s Growth Ventures Team as an Entrepreneur in Residence, and soon after joined BioGenerator in a similar role.
“It was eye-opening for me to go from a sample size of one, having had one successful entrepreneurial experience, but then to look at hundreds of management teams and business plans,” he said.
A few years ago, McCarter was plotting the next move in his career, figuring he’d probably start another business. He was interested in nutrition and its impacts on health, and thought that’d was an area ripe for startups. But while investigating the market, he came across the group that became Virta Health, and joined them as part of the founding management team.
Virta has 55 employees, most of which are located in San Francisco. But several, including McCarter, work out of BioGenerator in St. Louis.
“BioGenerator has been tremendously supportive of Virta,” McCarter said. “We are very interested in partnering with local companies.”
In addition to conducting Virta operations at BioGenerator, McCarter has also helped mentor, support and advise other companies that share the space.
“Jim really is the embodiment of the research and innovation strengths of St. Louis,” Ben Johnson, the Vice President of Programs at BioSTL and BioGenerator, said.
Virta is currently looking to partner with self-insured companies interested in offering its services as a benefit. On April 14, Virta and Purdue University announced a partnership that will provide such coverage to university employees and their dependents.
“We’d love to do the same with St. Louis-based corporations, or companies that have operations in St. Louis,” McCarter said.
The company is still in its early stages. But Virta creator Sami Inkinen, a tech entrepreneur who co-founded the real estate website Trulia in 2004, has ambitious goals: He wants to reduce Type 2 diabetes in 100 million people by 2025.
“We have an ambitious goal, and we have our work cut out for us,” he said, noting that the disease has traditionally been considered chronic and irreversible. “We have demonstrated and firmly believe that the course of the disease can be reversed and people can be returned to a greater degree of metabolic health. That’s our mission.”