How A One Year Old Startup Tackled An Industry Giant’s Problem

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A partnership between Takeda and startup rMark Bio helped solve a problem for Takeda, and opened up a new opportunity for the fledgling startup. This partnership was made possible through our broader connection with MATTER, a community of healthcare innovators working to solve complex healthcare problems. Here’s more about the partnership’s journey from siloed projects to a synergized solution.

The Problem

In early 2015, Mike Abbadessa, senior director of U.S. Medical Office at Takeda, and his team were looking to identify Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) by identifying patterns in practice. As the changing healthcare ecosystem shifts toward value-based care, Takeda needs to identify a new breed of KOLs in real time, and continuously.

Over the past five years, Takeda used off-the-shelf technological tools to identify primarily clinical KOLs, but the results were discouraging. Takeda needed more than clinical experts to navigate the rapidly changing healthcare environment. The products we were using weren’t customizable to meet Takeda’s needs and the outputs weren’t specific enough to truly answer the company’s needs. Mike and his technology team worked to combat this lack of specificity by collaborating with the Takeda Digital Accelerator (TDA) to conduct an experiment, with an established large-company/corporate consulting vendor to develop machine learning processes. Although the pilot provided some insights into the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for discerning specific KOL segments, the capabilities of the supplier were not a perfect fit. There remained a significant gap between the type of KOL Takeda was seeking and the answers offered by the technological tool we were using.

Then, in 2016, the TDA nominated Mike to spend his Fridays at MATTER as a Living Lab fellow, a program designed to encourage collaboration on common healthcare challenges between innovators within MATTER’s healthcare industry partner organizations and member startup companies.

Meanwhile, Jason Smith, technology executive and computer scientist turned healthcare entrepreneur, was working to create a tool to identify which academic researchers were studying conditions and subject matter relevant to the development of new drugs. His goal was to pair those researchers with biopharmaceutical companies pursuing similar lines of break-through research. And he was hoping to license his product to pharmaceutical companies looking for the latest in R&D. To facilitate this process, a team from his start-up rMark Bio , which he co-founded in 2015 with Dr. Lev Becker was developing a deep learning platform to learn and adapt its recommendations to be most helpful to potential users.

But while his product was promising, Jason was also struggling. He was having trouble connecting with the pharmaceutical executives who could potentially benefit from his product. And most important, he didn’t know if he was building something pharma companies would actually pay for.


At this point, MATTER vice president of Programs, Maryam Saleh recognized the potential synergies between Mike and Jason’s projects and introduced the two. The collaboration made sense on paper: Jason would get the feedback he needed for his learning platform, while Mike had a potential answer for how to identify the KOLs he need to support the needs of Takeda’s medical affairs team. But Mike’s problem wasn’t exactly the one Jason was solving. Mike needed to identify KOLs from integrated delivery networks and accountable care organizations, not the academics rMark Bio was working on identifying. However, after a few initial meetings, Mike realized rMark Bio’s product had the potential to fill the gap identified from the previous experiment with TDA.

Mike then pitched Jason on a big pivot: if rMark Bio could extend its platform and algorithms to identify KOLs that meet changing criteria for engagement with Takeda’s Medical Affairs department, the company might be interested in a licensing agreement.

Although the project scope was way beyond what Jason and Lev had initially planned, they quickly recognized the opportunity in front of them – a decision-maker at one of the largest pharma companies in the world was giving them explicit directions on what it would take to use their product.

So, they went for it.

The Project

Soon, Mike and Jason were meeting regularly at MATTER. Jason learned a great deal from these meetings as he got an inside view into Takeda’s operations, previous attempts to solve the clinical KOL problem, and the Medical Affairs decision making process. He worked closely with Mike to get his product audited and accepted by Takeda’s IT department. And he learned how to navigate the legal and procurement processes of a large pharmaceutical company.

For his part, Mike provided insights needed to customize portions of rMark Bio’s identification and recommendation platform to ensure it met Takeda’s dynamic needs up front, rather than trying to force fit ready-to-use products or struggling to wade through tons of raw data output from machine-learning algorithms.

The partnership with rMark Bio gave Takeda the best of both worlds: the customization and computing power of machine learning with the user interface and ease of use of ready-to-use solutions.

Today, rMark Bio and Takeda have a pilot agreement, under which rMark Bio will deploy its app to help about 20 Takeda employees identify clinical KOLs. Mike and Jason hope to continue the partnership after the pilot, and Takeda plans to be the first enterprise to license rMark Bio with the potential for 60 Takeda employees to use the technology, and perhaps even more, across the globe.


The partnership was a win-win for both parties: Takeda gained a product to immediately solve an existing problem, without the usual up-front research and development costs. rMark Bio secured a product roadmap from a big company, identified future opportunities for companies with similar challenges, received a potential customer, and gained a strong understanding of the buying and audit processes used by large pharma companies.

The two learned how to “speak each other’s language” as well. Jason now knows how to communicate his value proposition in a way big pharma will accept. And Mike learned to appreciate the startup “language” with which Jason communicates, embracing the genuine and open communication style that rules the startup world.

Jason now feels comfortable navigating the sales cycle at companies like Takeda and says it’s critical to have an internal champion, like Mike, as early as possible in the sales process.

Mike agrees. He believes his role as champion for innovation and startup liaison was critical to helping Takeda develop a solution for KOL identification, and says that any company looking to emulate his success with rMark Bio needs a senior executive dedicated to innovation. Further, he credits Takeda’s leadership for providing the resources and vision to support innovation projects.

If you’re working on a digital project, or looking to leverage digital innovation to solve a core business need,let the TDA know at or We have connections to local entrepreneur and innovation communities like MATTER across the globe. Or if you are in Chicagoland, learn more about getting get involved with MATTER.