Virta Health, a new company founded by a team of physicians, scientists, and technologists trained at Stanford, MIT, and Harvard, launches today with a bold mission to reverse type 2 diabetes—a chronic, progressive condition that affects more than 29 million Americans and 415 million people globally. The company’s debut comes on the heels of a new peer-reviewed study that demonstrates Virta was successful in reversing type 2 diabetes in half of its clinical trial patients and eliminating or reducing insulin in 87 percent of patients in just 10 weeks.
“Until now, the only clinically proven way to reverse diabetes was bariatric surgery. For the first time, people with type 2 diabetes have an alternative to surgery, which is risky, costly and not covered for most people, and also to ongoing management with medications like insulin,” said Sami Inkinen, co-founder and CEO of Virta Health. “Our mission is to reverse diabetes in 100 million people by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal, but we’re motivated every day by the lives we’ve already changed.”
Virta Health is an online specialty medical clinic that reverses type 2 diabetes safely and sustainably, without medications or surgery—shifting the focus from diabetes management to reversal. Virta helps lower hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar) while reducing or eliminating medications in an online setting with continuous, remote care delivered by a dedicated physician and health coach.
"Virta has shown that diabetes can be controlled in many patients without the need for medication or surgery. If we can get this treatment to more and more Americans, we can have a huge impact on their lives and reduce one of the most significant drivers of health care cost growth," said Dr. Robert Ratner, former chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association.
Virta is backed by $37 million in funding from an all-star group of investors including: Venrock, Allen & Company, Ev Williams’ Obvious Ventures, Redmile Group, and PayPal and Affirm founder Max Levchin’s Scifi VC.
Drawing on decades of research, including that of its founders and advisors, Virta is driving two major innovations. First, Virta’s science takes a highly individualized approach to carbohydrate intake and nutritional ketosis (when a body burns fat as its primary fuel source instead of glucose). And second, Virta’s technology platform and artificial intelligence enable continuous, remote care and ongoing personalization of each patient’s care plan, delivered online by Virta physicians and health coaches.
Taken together, these innovations enable Virta to deliver the high-engagement, personalized care required to reverse type 2 diabetes safely and sustainably at scale. The clinic does this by providing physician supervision, a dedicated health coach, app and biomarker tracking tools, a community of peers, and a personalized nutrition and care plan.
Virta was founded by Inkinen, the co-founder and former president of Trulia, and two of the foremost experts on metabolic health and nutritional biochemistry: Dr. Stephen Phinney, a physician and scientist with 40 years of expertise in nutritional biochemistry and professor of medicine emeritus at University of California, Davis, and Dr. Jeff Volek, a professor at Ohio State University who has spent 20 years studying the effects of nutrition and physical activity on health.
Results published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research Diabetes from a Virta clinical trial run in partnership with Indiana University Health Arnett demonstrate the promise of the Virta approach. The study showed that within 10 weeks, 56 percent of patients lowered their blood glucose to a non-diabetic range (as measured by A1c below 6.5%), and 87 percent reduced or completely eliminated insulin. Moreover, Virta patients experienced 7.2 percent weight loss on average, with 71 percent of participants achieving the clinically significant threshold of 5 percent. More than 90 percent of initial patients completed their individualized care plan.
“The life of diabetes is just hurting all the time. I was taking anywhere from 12 to 15 pills a day. Virta was like my last hope of being able to have my life back. Thanks to Virta, I’m sitting at 5.4 [A1c], so I’m under diabetes now. I feel alive. I feel like I have a life now,” said Sherry Crawford, a Virta clinical trial participant from Lafayette, Ind., who has lived with type 2 diabetes for the last 26 years.
As Virta expands, it will be offered to individual, self-paying patients, and to forward-looking employers and health plans who want to arrest the rising cost of diabetes care and create a healthier and more productive workforce. For physicians, Virta serves as a referral partner that provides safe and sustainable specialty care to treat patients with type 2 diabetes in a way not previously available.
“These early results indicate that when delivered with continuous online support, a highly individualized care plan focused on carbohydrate intake and nutritional ketosis can be very effective in improving glycemic control and weight loss in adults with type 2 diabetes while decreasing or eliminating diabetes medication use,” said Dr. Sarah Hallberg, medical director at Virta Health, and report co-author.