Former Castlight Health President and Jiff CEO Derek Newell has joined the executive team of San Francisco, California-based chronic disease treatment startup Virta Health.

As the company’s Head of Commercial, Newell’s portfolio will include expanding Virta’s partnerships with health plans and employers, which include contracts with Purdue University and Activision-Blizzard.

Alongside Newell, Lucia Guillory has joined Virta as its Head of People from Patreon.

Prior to founding health benefits platform Jiff (which was acquired by Castlight in 2017), Newell worked for years in the remote care monitoring and chronic disease management space.

Virta claims it can reverse Type 2 diabetes without medication or surgery by shifting patients to a personalized ketogenic diet and supporting them with consistent health coaching.

Newell said he was excited about the prospect of working with a company that has been shown to successfully reverse chronic disease with a remote care model and is pushing forward with new business models that better align incentives.

The company has an outcomes-based payment model which it puts 100 percent of its fees at-risk and ties most payments to performance-based benchmarks. Virta contrasts its approach with other digital health companies in the diabetes due to its stated ability to reverse – instead of simply manage – the condition.

“Virta is completely differentiated in this space, because we are reversing chronic disease instead of aiming for ongoing management. The health and economic outcomes of a reversal paradigm are massively better than other approaches,” Newell said in an e-mail.

Some of the clinical results touted by the company include its ability to reverse type 2 diabetes within one year in 60 percent of patients that complete their program and reduce or eliminate insulin usage in 94 percent of patients over that same time period.

More recently, the company released a study that indicated Virta’s approach could help treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease among diabetes patients, a condition commonly co-morbid with Type 2 diabetes.

Still there has been some skepticism from clinicians about whether their high-fat, low-carb nutrition plans represents a sustainable approach to diabetes treatment.

The market opportunity itself is huge. More than 30 million American suffer from diabetes and Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, making up 90 to 95 percent of the patient population.

According to the CDC, an additional 84 million Americans have prediabetes, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes within five years

Newell said his short-term priorities will be focused on boosting sales with the company’s customer categories while working towards positioning Virta as a standard of care for Type 2 diabetes treatment.

“Given what we’ve seen with our results, it is unethical for someone with T2D to not have Virta as an available treatment option,” Newell said.

Virta was started by Sami Inkinen, the co-founder of real estate technology company Trulia, after his own struggles with diabetes. To date, the company has raised $82 million from investors including Founders Fund and Venrock.

“The transformational outcomes we are achieving have produced strong demand for the Virta Treatment,” Inkinen said in a statement. “These executive additions allow us to continue our growth trajectory while also focusing on the critical aspects of team building to help us further scale our treatment.”

Picture: marchmeena29, Getty Images

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