Weekend reading roundup: Amwell’s Schoenberg opines to Politico; Teladoc’s new CMO also opines, SPACs are done, done, done

If Teladoc’s Jason Gorevic [TTA 1 July] and new CMO Vidya Raman-Tangella (below) are suddenly available to the health press, can a Schoenberg brother be far behind? This brief Q&A with Politico is with Roy Schoenberg of Amwell and covers the state of telehealth, obstacles, abortion, consolidation, and automation. He stays pretty much on message with no surprises as the questions are short and, as is the practice, pre-submitted:

  • Telehealth is a distribution arm of healthcare, not just videoconferencing
  • The biggest war in telehealth remains state licensure–as it was pre-pandemic, past the ‘jumping in’ stage
  • Telehealth will not be a ‘pill mill’ for abortion pills (abortifacients) or controlled substances–it will be based on clinician professional judgment. (In the Editor’s opinion, this ‘hot potato’ was pre-written by the legal department.)
  • Consolidation as a question is not answered. We will see telehealth delivered by large healthcare organizations and telehealth that works with multiple brands. (What is not addressed is what telehealth services large healthcare organizations will go forward in using–the ‘high-priced spread’ of all-inclusives or the white-labels)
  • His opinion around automation is that it will be split between the camps of replacing clinicians, or augmenting them plus giving patients the opportunity to manage their health reality. (One wonders for what reality Amwell is preparing)

Teladoc’s new chief medical officer Raman-Tangella is also on the healthcare charm offensive with a Healthcare Dive interview on strategy and new products. She discusses enterprise clinical strategy and whole-person care, which echoes the Gorevic interview. There’s a diversion to ‘health equity’ which is first defined as a continuum [Editor’s term] of gathering data, taking solutions to customers, and seeking outcomes that validate the first two. She then moves on to closing care gaps through this information, especially in musculoskeletal and physical therapy, and returning to health equity, disparities and then (what we used to define as) proactive care based on all this patient information.

Forget the fork. SPACs as an IPO method are burnt and heading to the trash bin. Again [TTA 9 June] we have PrivCo’s Daily Stack addressing their demise, this time quantifying the crack of the full SPAC market (in and outside healthcare):

  • From one in 2009 to 248 in 2020
  • 2021: an estimated 50% of the total US IPO market in Q1 with 299 listings valued at $98.3 billion
  • 2022: 18 registrations this entire 2022 year and still in the process of raising $2 billion. (This Editor noted that the only healthcare SPAC apparently in progress is VSee and iDoc Telehealth with Digital Health Acquisition Corporation to close in Q3.)

As we’ve previously noted, SPACs are under attack by the SEC and by perpetual hair-on-fire for the press Senators such as  Elizabeth Warren. According to Bloomberg (sign-in needed), 30 SPACs have been called off this year. And as we’ve noted, there are healthcare SPACs like SOC Telemed which went private at a fire sale discount. Others like Owlet, Headspace, and Talkspace are struggling. Watchful eyes are on late SPACs such as Pear Therapeutics and Babylon Health. It’s a less-than-grand finale to what was touted as a low-muss way to IPO.

A smash Q1 for digital health funding–but the SPAC party may be winding down fast

An Overflowing Tub of Big Funding and Even Bigger Deals. The bubble bath that was Q1 deals and funding is no surprise to our Readers. Your Editor at one point apologized for the often twice-weekly roundups. (Better the Tedium of Deals than COVID and Shutdown, though.)

Rock Health provides a bevy of totals and charts in its usual quarterly summary of US digital health deals.

  • US funding crested $6.7 bn over 147 deals during January through March, more than doubling 2020’s $3.1 bn in Q1 over 107 deals.
  • Trending was on par through February, until it spiked in March with four mega-deals (over $100 million) over two days: Clarify (analytics), Unite Us (SDOH tech), Strive Health (kidney care), and Insitro (drug discovery). These deals also exceeded 2020’s hot Q3 ($4.1 bn) and Q4 ($4.0 bn).
  • Bigger, better. Deals skewed towards the giant economy size. $100 million+ deals represented 66 percent of total Q1 funding
  • Deal sizes in Series B and C were bigger than ever, with a hefty Series B or C not uncommon any more. Series B raises were on average $49 million and C $77 million. One of March’s megadeals was a Series B–Strive Health with a $140 million Series B [TTA 18 Mar].
  • Series A deal size barely kept up with inflation, languishing in the $12 to $15 million range since 2018.
  • Hot sectors were a total turnaround from previous years. Mental health, primary care, and substance use disorders, once the ugly ducklings which would get their founders tossed out of cocktail parties, became Cinderellas Before Midnight at #1, #2, and #3 respectively. Oncology, musculoskeletal (MSK), and gastrointestinal filled out the Top 6 list.
  • M&As were also blistering: 57 acquisitions in Q1, versus Q4 2020’s 45

Given the trends and nine months to go, will it blow the doors off 2020’s total funding of $14 bn? It looks like it…but…We invite your predictions in the Comments below.

Les bon temps may rouler, but that cloud you see on the horizon may have SPAC written on it. A quick review: Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) typically are public companies that raise money through their own IPOs for the express purpose of buying other companies. Often called a ‘blank check’, they have no purpose other than buying one or two other companies–in the latter case, merging them like the announced Cloudbreak and UpHealth last November–and converting over to the company’s identity and business. The timeframe is usually two years. Essentially, the active company goes public with a minimum of the messy, long, expensive, and revelatory process of filing directly with the SEC (in the US). This quarter, Rock Health’s stat on SPACs was that they raised $83.1 bn this quarter, exceeding by $0.5 bn all SPAC activity in 2020, mainly late in the year. Their count was two SPACs closing in Q1 and 8 more announced but not yet closed (counting Cloudbreak/UpHealth as one).

As an exit door for investors, it’s worked very well–but is dependent on private equity and public investors having confidence in SPACs. One thinning of the bubble may be the scrutiny of Clover Health’s SPAC by the SEC [TTA 9 Feb] over not revealing that they were under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Certainly this was a material circumstance that could dissuade investors, among other dodgy business practices later unveiled. Mr. Market tells a tale; Clover went public 8 Jan at $15.90 and closed today at $7.61. Their YahooFinance listing has a long list of law firms filing class-action lawsuits on behalf of shareholders.

Clover may be the leading edge of a SPAC bust. SPACs are losing their luster because there are too many going through, jamming bandwidth at the bank and law firm level. As time ticks by and deals are delayed, the private funders of SPACs are growing squeamish, according to this report in National Review’s Capital Note (yes, National Review has a finance newsletter). “In the past two weeks alone, four blank-check deals have been halted, with SPAC shares declining significantly from their highs early this year. The slowdown follows an influx of short-sellers into the opaque financial vehicles and a sell-off in high-profile SPACs such as Churchill Capital Corp IV.” Reasons why: lower quality of companies available to go public via SPAC–the low hanging ripe fruit has been picked–and the last mile in SPACs, which is PIPE funding (private equity-investment-in-public-equity financing) is getting skittish. The last shoe to drop? The SEC in late March announced an investigation into SPACs, making inquiries into several banks seeking information on their SPAC dealings, which is alluded to near the end of the Rock Health report. CNBC  (Read further down into the NR article for a Harvard Business Review dissection of the boom-bust dynamics of ‘controversial practices’ like reverse mergers as a forecast of what may happen to SPACs. Increased popularity led to increased negativity in reverse mergers.)

And speaking of SPACs...Health tech/digital health eyes are upon what Glen Tullman and the ‘late of Livongo’ team will be doing with their SPAC, Health Assurance Acquisition Corp., which is backed by Hemant Taneja’s General Catalyst, also a former Livongo funder. Brian Dolan, who is now publishing Exits and Outcomes. His opinion is their buy will be Color, formerly Color Genomics: opinion piece is here. Messrs Tullman and Taneja are also leading Transcarent, a company that brings together employers, employees, and providers in a seamless, app-driven integrated care model. Forbes

The cool-off in SPACs may burst a few bubbles in the bath–and that may be all to the good in the long term.