In 1929, Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy wrote a short story inventing the idea of ‘six degrees of separation’. According to this idea, any two people can be linked to each other through six, or fewer, social connections. Everyone you know is one degree away, everyone they know is two degrees away, and so on until you reach that sixth-degree connection.
The healthcare world, however, is considerably better linked than that. According to Lance Hill, CEO and founder of Within3, you can typically link two healthcare professionals within just three connections.
“This is where the name of the company came from,” he says. “If you look at a physician in Beijing and a physician in London, they’re connected within three degrees of each other based on training, medical associations and other relationships they have – their world is actually smaller.
“The idea behind Within3 was, how can we use technology to bring together the healthcare world from a communications point of view?”
Bridging the gaps in life sciences communication
Within3 was founded in 2007 to fulfil an important need. Simply put – most people’s access to quality healthcare is based on their primary care physician and who, or what, that physician knows. It doesn’t matter how many specialists are out there if your doctor has never heard of them.
“This idea of being able to communicate within healthcare, and access the broadest set of knowledge in the industry, has always been very constrained,” says Hill. “There remains a lot of technology investment in healthcare on the IT side, focused on workflow and automation, but not much focusing on how we can make conversations happen more easily. So that was the genesis of the company – how can we help solve that problem?”
As Hill quickly realised, one place where the challenge was particularly acute was in the life sciences arena – pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biotech, medtech and so forth. In this part of the industry, you’re limited, often due to regulatory reasons, in how you can engage with your patients and other stakeholders.
“You’re an environment where you need to be disseminating and evaluating science with a broad set of stakeholders – scientists, healthcare professionals and ultimately patients,” says Hill.
“When a life sciences company runs a clinical study, most of the investigators don’t work directly for the life sciences company, and that creates a massive constraint around communication and collaboration. We focused on how we can bring innovative technology to life science companies, to help them bridge those gaps.”
Within life sciences, the conversations that need to happen don’t typically unfold over the course of a single Zoom meeting. Within3 creates a different kind of online environment – one in which people can log in at their convenience, engage in discussion and review materials.
They don’t need to worry about time zones or language (the platform translates over 100 languages), while there are over 80 different compliance features to ensure conversations can happen confidentially.
“Companies that use that platform gain tremendous strategic advantage in terms of their time to market and the number and quality of interactions they can have with key constituents,” says Hill.
“That’s all because the technology at its core is allowing people to come in and interact when it’s convenient for them, versus trying to force everyone into a single point in time. This kind of technology is more prevalent now, but at the time we started exploring the idea, it was a little more revolutionary.”
Tipping the balance towards virtual
Today, Within3 has users in over 150 countries (including all of the top 20 pharma companies) and thousands of implementations. The last year or so has been pivotal, with the company registering explosive growth and raising more than $100m in funding.
Although this dramatic growth phase pre-dated Covid-19, the early stages of the pandemic did create a further spike in demand. With medical congresses cancelled, organisations needed to pivot swiftly to virtual modes of work. Communicating virtually was no longer just something for the to-do list; it was a necessity for the here and now.
“The pandemic has forced people to look at virtual technologies, and your choices are really some sort of video conference technology, or Within3,” says Hill. “Those approaches have pros and cons in different parts of a company’s communication.”
He expects this trend towards doing things remotely will persist even once Covid has died down. While people will still meet face-to-face where appropriate, the balance will have shifted.
“What we’re hearing from our clients is, now that I’ve tried it, I’m not going back,” says Hill. “We think that when the pandemic ends, there will be a part of the market that goes back to live interactions. But going forward, I don’t think there’s ever going to be another major medical congress with a live component that doesn’t have a very robust virtual component at the same time.”
He adds that as technology progresses, we’ll be able to get even more value out of virtual interactions than we do now. This might tip the balance further still.
As demand for Within3 continues to surge, the company is looking to scale up. The recent $100m funding round, which was led by venture capitalists Insight Partners, has enabled Within3 to grow its headcount, expand its global presence and deliver client services in 15 languages. The funds are also being used to enhance the platform itself.
“Today, our product embeds 40 different processes that are common across life sciences that we can make much better from a communication point of view. And we see the next 40 that are on the horizon,” says Hill.
“We want to accelerate our investment into our R&D, so that we can be building out against places in life sciences, where communication is still hard, repetitive, redundant, time-consuming and slow.”
Beyond that, the company is eyeing avenues for acquisition, such as its recent takeover of artificial intelligence company rMark Bio. rMark’s AI technology will be incorporated within the Within3 platform, with a view to giving clients a better understanding of their development projects.
“Ultimately, if we can speed that the pace of new therapies coming to market and being adopted by patients who need them, we’ve done something really important,” says Hill.
“You know, if we’ve affected even one life in that way, that is something that’s really important. And we think there’s a tremendous opportunity for life sciences companies to think about how an even a slightly improved communication paradigm in their organisations could further their goals.”