In medical school, we committed thousands of pages of medical textbooks to memory about diseases and how to treat them. Like generations of doctors, I memorized that Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disease where the goal is to slow progression. That there is no cure or way to reverse it. That for most patients, it is a relentless journey towards feared complications like amputations, heart attacks, strokes, and blindness. And that my goal is to help patients avert these complications. About a decade ago, the paradigm began to change, when data emerged that bariatric surgery can reverse type 2 diabetes. But these surgeries, while effective, are expensive, carry meaningful operative risk, and require lifelong lifestyle changes that make them undesirable for many patients.
Two years ago, we first learned about an approach from an early stage company called Virta Health with results that are similar to bariatric surgery at a fraction of the price and risk. Virta Health is commercializing an approach for reversing type 2 diabetes pioneered by Drs. Steve Phinney and Jeff Volek based upon restricting dietary carbohydrates to induce a metabolic state called ketosis. When we dove into the results, they were the best we have ever seen. They were generated from several hundred “typical” people with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes based upon the clinical care and research conducted by Phinney and Volek on thousands of patients. We sent Virta’s data to diabetes experts, biostatisticians, academic doctors, and drug company researchers. All of them were impressed. They told us that these are the best results they have seen from any intervention other than bariatric surgery. Amazingly, most of the patients could reverse their diabetes, reduce or eliminate their medications, and live happier lives. For these reasons, and out of great confidence in Virta’s leadership team, we invested to help Virta scale their approach to serve more patients.
Virta is publishing their first clinical trial now. Virta’s data on 250 patients has been carefully collected by Indiana University, analyzed, and published after peer review. The results speak for themselves. After only 10 weeks, nearly 90 percent of patients eliminated, or reduced, insulin, patients lost 7percent of their body weight, and HbA1c measures fell dramatically. As impressive, 91 percent of patients willingly stayed on Virta’s program.
With any lifestyle change, the next question is whether “typical” people can stick with it. The world is littered with diet programs, exercise regimens, and support groups with more failures than successes. What stands out about Virta is that once patients start they can stick with it. When we talk to patients, the resounding feedback is that they feel so much better on Virta’s program that it is easy to stick with it. Notably, people do not feel hungry. They also report better sleep and more energy. These benefits coupled with weight loss are motivating and reinforcing.
Virta achieves these results through a combination of clinical care delivered by doctors, diabetes educators, dieticians, and coaches enabled by technology. The Virta Clinic develops individualized programs for each patient. They then adjust medications by tracking weight, biomarkers, and patient feedback every day. Virta coaches provide coaching and education to help each patient achieve their goals, learn, and understand how their body responds.
Reversing Type 2 diabetes, and helping patients lose weight, saves a lot of money. Diabetes medicines are expensive. Most patients spend $5,000 to $15,000 per year on their medications. Insulin alone usually costs about $8,000 per year. With Virta, most patients are able to take fewer medications and many are able to take none. There are additional savings from fewer hospitalizations, fewer specialty care doctor visits, weight loss, and the extra activity that patients achieve with better sleep and more energy. And in many cases savings from averted complications that would have occurred with disease progression. We are proud to work with Virta. Virta is led by an exceptional team of the best and brightest clinicians combined with a world class software, data analytics, and technology team. Virta’s Founders, Drs. Phinney and Volek literally wrote the textbook on this approach and are paired with Sami Inkinen who discovered their work as a triathlete and brings entrepreneurial know how from his success Co-Founding Trulia. Virta’s goal is to reverse Type 2 diabetes in 100 million people by 2025. We hope that you tell people about Virta, and if you are a type 2 diabetic, that you try Virta and feel better.