How HealthMatch snagged $6 million, including from Seek co-founder Paul Bassat, to match critically ill patients with clinical trials


HealthMatch founder and chief Manuri Gunawardena. Source: supplied.

Aussie medtech marketplace startup HealthMatch has raised $6 million in Series A funding for its tech bringing efficiency into clinical trials, and potentially helping bring more treatments to market.

The round was led by existing investor Tempus Partners and Square Peg, with Paul Bassat, Square Peg co-founder and former founder and chief of Seek, joining the HealthMatch board.

Several private investors also contributed, including Anton Borzov, former head of product and founding team member at WhatsApp, ex-Goggle head of litigation Catherine Lacavera, and former Goldman Sachs chief Stephen Fitzgerald.

HealthMatch was founded by former med student Manuri Gunawardena, who noticed a disconnect between researchers running clinical trials and patients who would desperately like to access them, while working in a research lab and studying neuro-oncology.

“Unless you know the right clinician, or you’re visiting the right hospital, it’s very hit or miss as to whether you might access a study,” she tells StartupSmart.

For the researchers, it’s difficult to find the right patients with the right eligibility, and therefore to satisfy statistical significance. That means some trials end up not going ahead at all.

This is the “biggest bottleneck” when it comes to development of new treatments, she says.

“It’s terrible for research and for new treatments.”

The founder aggregated all of the clinical trials that are going on, and created a structured and standardised platform that matches patients with eligible clinical trials.

For patients, it’s difficult to find out what clinical trials are going on at all.

For some of them, “they’re desperately trying to find out what options are out there,” Gunawardena says.

“You just want to know you’ve seen everything out there.”

Now, Gunawardena has deferred med school, “probably indefinitely”.

HealthMatch launched at the end of February this year, and while the founder doesn’t reveal any figures, she does say the business has started to generate revenue,

It has secured contracts with pharmaceutical companies and contract research organisations, as well as a recent partnership with Switzerland-based giant Roche Pharmaceuticals.

“We got quite a bit of user uptake and user growth,” she says.

A switch in mindset

HealthMatch has previously raised $1.3 million in seed funding in June 2018. But the Series A raise “is always that difficult one”, Gunawardena says.

It’s been an ongoing process for a couple of months, she adds.

On the one hand, now the business has been up and running for nine months or so, the founder was able to articulate the progress, demonstrate traction, and discuss her plans for scaling.

On the other, “it does takes you away from the company”.

HealthMatch has a team of six people, she notes, “so it is difficult sometimes to pause and switch your mindset to cap raising”.

Capital raising is “always very energy consuming”, she adds.

Of course, founders have to balance that with the actual day-to-day running of the business, too.

“We’re super excited to be back into actually building the company and using the funds to scale now.”

Now, Gunawardena has international growth on her mind. HealthMatch has already expanded into Hong Kong, she says.

“We want to expand our reach in Australia more broadly,” she says.

“But it’s a global problem, and we want to be in other markets as soon as possible.”

Initially, the startup will focus on the Asia Pacific region and the US, which, Gunawardena says, accounts for about 60% of all clinical trials.

Globally, pharmaceutical companies struggle with recruiting patients for clinical trials, she notes.

“To have a tool like this in a geography, it actually helps bring clinical trials into that geography,” she says.

A little help from your friends

Having seen revenue, international expansion and now a significant Series A raise, all within HealthMatch’s first year of trading, Gunawardena notes the importance of getting the right people on side.

“It’s super important to know what investors actually focus on your space,” she explains.

There are only a certain amount of investors who actually understand healthtech, she notes.

“Do some diligence,” she advises.

“See if they’ve invested in the space or have an understanding of the space. That will really help when it comes to not going down a rabbit hole.”

Especially when you’re in the early stages of the business, founders will be short of resources, time and energy.

“You want to get back to the business as soon as possible … you really want to target the people you speak to,” Gunawardena says.

In HealthMatch’s case, Square Peg was a last-minute addition to the Series A investor line up, joining Tempus, which led the startup’s seed round.

But getting Seek co-founder Paul Bassat on board will be a real boon for the business, Gunawardena says,

Although his experience isn’t necessarily in the health space, “he brings along a lot of knowledge and experience,” she explains.

He already sits on the boards of a lot of other “really impressive companies”, and has, of course, founded and grown a marketplace startup himself.

“It’s a steep learning curve and you have to constantly be learning and adapting, and it’s really great when you have those people around you who have that experience, who you can lean on,” Gunawardena says.

NOW READ: What Seek co-founder Paul Bassat looks for when investing in a startup

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