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Precision Nutrition Changing the Face of Health
Episode 697

Tracy Warren, Co-founder, and CEO of Astarte Medical

Precision Nutrition Changing the Face of Health

In this episode, we are privileged to feature Tracy Warren, the co-founder, and CEO of Astarte Medical, a precision nutrition company using software and predictive analytics to improve outcomes during the first 1,000 days of life.  

Tracy discusses how her company leverages large data sets, interventions, and tools to help children be on the right path of nutrition and health. She talks about NICU, baby’s health, tracking the growth curve, the need for standardization, and more. She also shares her insights on setbacks, technology, and the future of healthcare. 

There are so many things to learn in this conversation so please tune in and enjoy!

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Precision Nutrition Changing the Face of Health

Episode 697

About Tracy Warren

She is the co-founder and CEO of Astarte Medical. She also previously co-founded Astarte Ventures, an early-stage investment firm focused exclusively on investing in companies with technologies to support women’s and children’s health and well-being. Prior to Astarte, Tracy served as a general partner at Batel Ventures and focused on investments in health and life sciences, as well as emerging energy technologies.

As an entrepreneur. Tracy has nearly two decades as an early-stage venture capital investor. 

She completed her degree at NYU Stern School of Business and her MBA at Columbia Business School. 

Precision Nutrition Changing the Face of Health with Tracy Warren, Co-founder, and CEO of Astarte Medical: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Precision Nutrition Changing the Face of Health with Tracy Warren, Co-founder, and CEO of Astarte Medical: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Saul Marquez:
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Saul Marquez:
Hey everyone, Saul Marquez here, welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket. Today, I have the privilege of hosting the excellent Tracy Warren. She is the co-founder and CEO of Astarte Medical. Tracy leverages her experience in entrepreneurship and nearly two decades as an early-stage venture capital investor. Tracy previously co-founded Astarte Ventures, an early-stage investment firm focused exclusively on investing in companies with technologies to support women’s and children’s health and well-being. It was through the efforts associated with Astarte Ventures that Tracy and her co-founders came together in 2016 to form a start to medical to dramatically impact health outcomes for the first one thousand days of life. That’s from conception through age two, through precision nutrition driven by cutting-edge data and analytics tools. Prior to Astarte. Tracy served as a general partner at Batel Ventures and focused on investments in health and life sciences, as well as emerging energy technologies. So with that intro, Tracy, so glad that we could be here together today.

Tracy Warren:
Thanks for having me, Saul.

Saul Marquez:
Absolutely. Now we’re going to dive into the amazing work that you guys do at Astarte shortly. But before we do, I would love to get to know what makes you tick, what inspires your work and health care.

Tracy Warren:
Well, I think from early on, so I’m a finance major. It’s kind of you can do a lot with a degree in that area. But finding something that mattered that I felt could impact society more broadly. Accounting usually doesn’t do that. So I ended up in health care banking and then ended up very quickly transitioning to venture capital and founding new companies with brilliant entrepreneurs was very easy to fall in love with. So that’s really how I got my career started in health care.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. I love it. And so, you guys, the work that you did with Astarte Ventures flowed into a medical and it’s really interesting from conception to two years old, it could be a fragile age. And a lot of kids, a lot of parents struggle in this in this time frame, especially premature babies, et cetera. So so talk to us about how Astarte is adding value to the ecosystem through what you do.

Tracy Warren:
Yeah, and so with Astarte Medical, we kind of fell into it. We were investing in the space as a traditional investor and met a woman, our scientific co-founder, who’s a newborn ICU nurse. So she’s a nurse up in Boston. And she really opened our eyes to this concept of early health and how if you can set children out on the right path early in life in these first thousand days, you have fewer chronic diseases, you have fewer allergies, asthma, less obesity. And so focusing on interventions and tools in the space can really have a huge long-term impact. So really trying to get ahead of the conditions that are starting to plague our children today. And part of the reason Kate is so insightful in that regard is that she’s also a microbiome researcher. So a lot of folks talk about the microbiome, but your gut microbiome is a huge part of your overall health plays a huge role, the gut-brain access. We’re learning more and more about the role it plays. And so in this window of first thousand days, your gut microbiome is at its lowest level of diversity and can be most easily influenced and managed by time. At age three, your gut microbiome looks like an adult. So this window is really unique and really powerful at the same time. And that’s what got us excited.

Saul Marquez:
Interesting. So this short period of time, zero to a thousand days, the microbiome is more I guess you were able to influence it for the better or the worse.

Tracy Warren:
Absolutely. So think about a glass that has beads in it. And if I have a thousand beads and they’re all blue and you put in one red bead and you shake it up, it’s very hard to find the red bead. Right. But it’s only ten blue beads and you put in one. It’s much easier to find. So think of it in that regard. So the red being an intervention. So whether that be just a proper diet or a better-informed diet, whether it be a probiotic or some kind of food intervention, the idea being that in the early period of your life, you have very low diversity and a very low number of bacteria in your gut. And that’s what makes the window so unique. By the time you get to that very heterogeneous gut, it’s very hard to figure out patterns and discern. And certainly by the time you’re an adult undoing. A lot of the things we’ve done to ourselves through nutrition over the years gets more and more complicated.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for highlighting that. And as you guys do what you do, how are you actually doing it and how are you helping during this time frame that’s so important?

Tracy Warren:
Well, I talk about our first opportunity within this, which is really we’re a data place, so we were very interested in using large data set deep data sets to create patterns, understand patterns and create insights into that kind of early nutrition and health. We believe that if you get nutrition right and you set kids on the right road, you can really sustain their health and longevity. To do that, we’ve created a suite of tools that brings in data from the electronic medical record and data around patient outcomes and gut microbiome, which I talked about.

Tracy Warren:
And we’re putting that all into a big pot, looking for patterns on how to feed, what to feed, how frequently to feed, what to feed. So diet is can be very variable. But early in life, it’s not right when kids are really young. It’s a very simple diet, the age that becomes more complex. So again, getting a handle on the Right. models for nutrition and feeding. And so we do that through a suite of software tools and a set of digital diagnostics that we’ve developed.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. OK, so. So then is this opportunity something that individuals can take advantage of or is this something that you guys, your business is working with providers? Who’s your main customer initially?

Tracy Warren:
So within the first thousand days, we decided to start where the data is the most rich and that is in the neonatal intensive care unit. So our focus today is on premature infants. So you may or may not know, babies can survive at twenty-two weeks gestation. So just halfway through a pregnancy. So you’re talking about little humans that arrive at hundreds of grams and survive. With that comes the burden of survivorship and trying to feed them and get them to grow as they would have had they stayed inside Mom.

Tracy Warren:
So they are usually in a neonatal intensive care unit at hospitals, which is our first market, and we sell to them to the providers set of tools that help them track the feeding and know what those outcomes are associated with. For those babies the number one thing for those babies is to help them grow as they would have inside mom, the 50 percent fail to reach that goal. So it’s a very tough challenge for the clinicians. And that’s really where we started, is with the most vulnerable.

Saul Marquez:
Got it. Yeah, it’s challenging. And so you guys are helping these NICU clinicians, neonatologists, physicians, Right. get the data that they need to give them the feedback. Hey, this is working. This is not working. Clinical decision support probably. Right. Woven into it. OK, very cool. Very cool. OK, so give us an example of how you’re improving outcomes. I’d love to hear.

Tracy Warren:
Yeah. So I mentioned half of our babies experience growth failure, which preterm infants, just like regular term babies, have growth curves. And the idea is as long as your child tracks to that curve, their health outcomes are better and they’re tracking well. So we look at growth failure. So how well is the baby tracking to its growth curve? We look at creating the evidence and the tools that take in what’s called a hospital’s feeding protocol. So these are clinical practice guidelines that the hospital in each one has different. But we bring that into the platform and we help standardize feeding. And there’s literature, multiple publications that show that if you standardize how a unit feeds, you improve growth, you improve the baby’s ability to achieve milestones like returning to birth weight, getting to full feeds and triple feeds, meaning they’re using their gut exclusively for their feeds and then transitioning to Aurel, which is really the goal so that it can go home with their parents. So we track the milestones and we track the long-term growth and outcomes for those babies, all of which get the babies home faster to their families, get them out of a really expensive care setting, but also just produce better long-term cognitive and other outcomes for our babies.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, and just thinking about Tracy, of how this has been done before a start, I mean, has a lot of this been done just blindly and not necessarily blindly, but has it been done through gut and intuition and like tell me more about that.

Tracy Warren:
Yeah, and I think it’s true across medicine right. I think there’s a recognized need for standardization, the usual protocols not just for feeding, but for surgeries, for postop, for any kind of care delivered. There’s an understanding that if there’s consistency in the delivery, outcomes are better. So NICU feeding is no exception to that. So today hospitals published their guidelines. They may put them on an index card, they may put out a PDF and distribute it. And everything is documented in the electronic medical record. But there’s absolutely no way to know whether anyone’s following the protocol. Yeah. Oh, it usually is a very tedious manual process to even explore whether or not your. Protocol is having an impact and who’s following it and who’s not. And so we’ve taken all of that and that’s like I said, we integrate with the EMR, we embed that protocol, and then we track adherence and associated outcomes so that hospitals can improve their protocol. If they’re not getting the outcomes they desire, they can focus on areas that perhaps require additional training and education. But we’re really meant to be a tool to help impact care with a set of rules or guidelines that the hospital has deemed their way. And that’s really how we facilitate that clinical decision. Support.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. It’s such a critical time. I’ve got friends that have been through big challenges and their kids were born prematurely. And to know that there’s a technology that would help augment the knowledge and expertise of a clinician is just wonderful. Data-backed support is just that’s the way it should be. And I can’t imagine that it was easy. As you think about some of the biggest setbacks you’ve had, what would you say one that sticks out is and what are the key learning that came out of that?

Tracy Warren:
We’ll put COVID aside because hospitals during a pandemic would be tough. But prior to that, I would say probably the biggest surprise and certainly, I think a setback for entrepreneurs who sell to hospitals is just the lack of resources available for these large institutions. I mean, they’re just poor, understaffed. And so implementing new technology takes way longer. It’s never a technological barrier. It’s a labor barrier. It’s a priority barrier. It’s a bureaucracy barrier. So for us, I think even prior to the pandemic, the toughest thing was really the undersized I.T. resources of hospitals that are supporting EPIK and these large implementations. And if you were to outsource that to Sultan Group, they’d have three times as many people. So I think just the undersize nature of tech versus health care in a hospital is always a challenge. I think then push the limits during the pandemic. And so if I could say anything positive about that situation, they were forced overnight to adopt technologies, telemedicine, remote monitoring. They were forced is probably one of the best things that could have happened, in my opinion, to health care is that it’s possible there when there are no excuses, when there’s literally you have to get it done, they could do it. So now I’m hoping that post pandemic will see more appropriate resourcing and fewer excuses on adopting new technologies. But absent that, I mean, I think that’s really probably most startups that sell the hospitals would have a similar story to ours.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, it’s a big issue. And I’ve been in that same problem, too. Right. you have a solution that clinicians want and all of a sudden it’s three to four to five months before they can actually allocate people to the project. Then it’s just like, are you kidding me? Like what? Yeah. And you have all everybody in line Right. purchasing is in line. Got the clinicians there ready. But that IT hurdle. It’s such a pain. And you’re right, just planning for that and being in the venture side of things you could probably relate to. If you’re an investor in this space, you really have to take a look at the sales cycle and probably double it because it does take a while.

Tracy Warren:
Oh, for sure. And I mean, people say it’s 18 months for a hospital sales cycle. We haven’t seen that yet. I mean, in our first couple of signed deals. But I do think the delays, to your point, are they seem illogical, but everyone implemented EMRs because Affordable Care Act’s Right. mandates and things like that. The challenge is the EMR themselves take a village to support their you deploy. They were designed either purposefully or not, to require tons of customization and handholding, and they just don’t allow for easy interoperability. So we kind of made it worse before we’ll make it better. But I think the pendulum is starting to swing in that regard.

Saul Marquez:
I agree. I agree, Tracy. And so what would you say you’re most excited about today?

Tracy Warren:
I am super excited about just the recognition of nutrition and health. So as an example and I just put out a precision nutrition plan for the next decade from 2021 to 2030. And if you read it, the comments are all exactly aligned with what we believe. Right. if you get nutrition right. A lot of the health care costs and a lot of the challenges that are adults and children have can be avoided and recovery from surgery can be better if you get nutrition right. And it’s such a phenomenal tool in health. So I’m super excited that the world is starting to open up to the value of nutrition, and the challenges are that nutrition isn’t taught in medical school, so it’s not a super-strong hold for doctors where they feel super comfortable. And so while they try to do their best, I just don’t think they have all of the tools. And certainly, free will is no friend of nutrition, tastes good and not necessarily what’s good for them. We will struggle for this for, I think, a long time. But I do think just the recognition that we can keep people healthy instead of treating them when they’re sick and just have a better quality of life and a much lower health care burden is starting to peek through. There’s a little bit of a break in the clouds.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, it is exciting to have the evidence and there are more trends of food as medicine, and I’ve seen a lot more this year than ever. So it definitely is exciting to see that trend. And so I really appreciate you guys jumping on the podcast with us, talking to us a little bit about what you do. Tracy, there’s still a lot more to be explored and only so much we could cover in an interview. But what would you leave us with a closing thought? What closing thought would leave us with? And then what’s the best place that the listeners could get in touch with you if they have any questions or want to explore an opportunity with you guys?

Tracy Warren:
Sure. So I think my parting sort of message would be especially to sort of investors and groups getting very strategic about nutrition and its role in health care is a really great new area. And so from an innovation perspective, I think us and others have a great position to make a real difference in health care. And that’s probably the best part of my job, is knowing we can make a difference when it matters most to families. So I would say just become educated, read what you can, make sure you look at all the options for health before you get sick. And staying healthy is probably the best way to do that. From a company perspective, we’re AstarteMedical.com and you can reach out to us through the website and connect. And there are lots of great videos. We do a webinar every month on neonatal nutrition. So if you want to hear more about our space and our archived on our website, so please check it out.

Saul Marquez:
Love it. Well, this has been great, Tracy. I definitely appreciate the learnings that you shared today and certainly looking forward for us to stay in touch.

Tracy Warren:
Great. Well, thanks for having me, Saul. It’s great.

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Things You’ll Learn

  • The gut microbiome is a huge part of your overall health. 
  • Implementing technology takes longer because many hospitals are understaffed. 
  • The world is starting to open to the value of nutrition. 
  • From an innovation perspective, nutrition is a great area. 

 

Resources

https://astartemedical.com/

https://astartemedical.com/contact/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tracy-warren/

https://www.linkedin.com/company/astarte-medical/