X PRIZE founder invests in WashU startup

When the St. Louis Business Journal reported in early August that St. Louis health tech startup Epharmix “raised $765,000 from a group of five investors,” it listed BioGenerator as one of the backers but left the other four spots to the readers’ imagination.

It turns out, one of the other investors is X PRIZE founder and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis. Although the author and co-founder of Singularity University has been listed on the Epharmix website as an advisor for two months now, Epharmix CEO Blake Marggraff says Diamandis did not give permission to disclose his investment until now.

"Epharmix combines established technologies with breakthrough processes: rocket fuel to bring exponential improvements in healthcare to individuals who need it most." Peter H. Diamandis, MD, Chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation
Courtesy of Epharmix

“We really hope to benefit from Diamandis’ philosophy of abundance and exponentiality,” says biology grad Blake Marggraff, who co-founded Epharmix with three other members of the Washington University community – Evan Huang (computer science), Joe McDonald (biomedical engineering & MBA) and Avik Som (current MD/PhD student). Barton Hamilton, PhD, professor of entrepreneurship at WashU’s Olin Business School, also invested in the startup.

The Epharmix team, which has since grown to five full-time staff members and a nine-person clinical team, seeks to improve patient outcomes through automated text messages. These digital interventions allow doctors to check up on patients after they have been discharged from the hospital and intervene when they need additional help.

Having two well-known entrepreneurs (venture capitalist Randy Haykin is the other one) invest in them is not the only good news for Epharmix of late: on Aug. 24, Washington University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved a long-term, 5,200-patient study, which allows Epharmix to test the efficacy of their technology through trials. “This allows us to do many different randomized-controlled trials on different types of products for patients across the spectrum of disease states,” says Margraff, who attributes the concept for Epharmix to his involvement in WashU-based bioengineering design and entrepreneurship incubator IDEA Labs.

Says Marggraff: “Thanks to the IRB, our vision of becoming the first technology company that’s driven by clinical data is more within reach than ever.”

John P. Lynch, MD, chief medical officer of Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center, is one of 22 physicians that serve as Epharmix advisors. Lynch says the text message and phone based communication tools are easy to implement for providers and patients alike, because they are based on “technology that most of us have in our pockets nowadays.”

Lynch, who is also the vice president at Barnes-Jewish, believes Epharmix could be an “integral part” of an emerging concept called “medical home” and “serve society as a whole by reducing health care costs” (see recording).

According to Marggraff, Epharmix’ digital interventions have been proven in a number of clinical studies. One of them, called EpxDialysis, aims to reduce missed dialysis sessions through “improved patient-provider communication.” As the graph shows, the percentage of hospitalized patients with access to the Epharmix product was half the number of hospitalized patients in the control group.


CFO/COO Joe McDonald, who recently earned his MBA from the Olin Business School, joined Epharmix because he was looking to channel his interest in the healthcare space. “What’s so nice about Epharmix is how quickly this technology can move and make a difference,” McDonald says. “With pharma, biotech and medical devices, you’re constantly planning ten years out.”

CEO Marggraff is confident that his team can achieve its bold aspirations: “Our grand vision is to become the standard of medical care for diseases across the spectrum,” he says. With supporters of Diamandis’ caliber in their corner, Epharmix seems to be heading in the right direction.