uBiome is jumping into therapeutics with a healthy $83 million in Series C financing

23andMe, IBM and now uBiome is the next tech company to jump into the lucrative multi-billion dollar drug discovery market. The company started out with a consumer gut health test to check whether your intestines carry the right kind of bacteria for healthy digestion but has since expanded to include over 250,000 samples for everything […]

23andMe, IBM and now uBiome is the next tech company to jump into the lucrative multi-billion dollar drug discovery market.

The company started out with a consumer gut health test to check whether your intestines carry the right kind of bacteria for healthy digestion but has since expanded to include over 250,000 samples for everything from the microbes on your skin to vaginal health — the largest data set in the world for these types of samples, according to the company.

Founder Jessica Richman now says there’s a wider opportunity to use this data to create value in therapeutics.

To support its new drug discovery efforts, the San Francisco-based startup will be moving its therapeutics unit into new Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters and appointing former Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez to the board of directors as well.

The company has a healthy pile of cash to help build out that new HQ, too, with a fresh $83 million Series C, lead by OS Fund and in participation with 8VC, Y Combinator, Dentsu Ventures and others.

The drug discovery market is slated to be worth nearly $86 billion by 2022, according to BCC Research numbers. New technologies — those that solve logistics issues and shorten the time between research and getting a drug to market in particular — are driving the growth and that’s where uBiome thinks it can get into the game.

“This financing allows us to expand our product portfolio, increase our focus on patent assets and further raise our clinical profile, especially as we begin to focus on commercialization of drug discovery and development of our patent assets,” Richman said.

Though its unclear at this time which drug maker the company might partner up with, Richman did say there would be plenty to announce later on that front.

So far, the company has published over 30 peer-reviewed papers on microbiome research, has entered into research partnerships with the likes of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and leading research institutions such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford and has previously raised $22 million in funding. The additional VC cash puts the total amount raised to $105 million to date.

Apple’s Watch isn’t the first with an EKG reader but it will matter to more consumers

Apple’s COO Jeff Williams exuberantly proclaimed Apple’s Watch was the first to get FDA clearance as an over-the-counter electrocardiogram (EKG) reader during the special event at Apple headquarters on Wednesday. While Apple loves to be first to things, that statement is false. AliveCor has held the title of first since late last year for its […]

Apple’s COO Jeff Williams exuberantly proclaimed Apple’s Watch was the first to get FDA clearance as an over-the-counter electrocardiogram (EKG) reader during the special event at Apple headquarters on Wednesday. While Apple loves to be first to things, that statement is false.

AliveCor has held the title of first since late last year for its KardiaMobile device, a $100 stick-like metal unit you attach to the back of a smartphone. Ironically, it also received FDA clearance for the Kardiaband, an ECG reader designed to integrate with the Apple Watch and sold at Apple stores and just this week, the FDA gave the go ahead for AliveCor’s technology to screen for blood diseases, sans blood test.

However, the Apple Watch could be the first to matter to a wider range of consumers. For one, Apple holds a firm 17 percent of the world’s wearables market, with an estimated shipment volume of 28 million units in just 2018. While we don’t know how many AliveCor Kardiaband and KardiaMobile units were sold, it’s very unlikely to be anywhere near those numbers.

For another thing, a lot of people, even those who suspect they have a heart condition, might have some hesitations around getting a separate device just to check. Automatic integration makes it easy for those curious to start monitoring without needing to purchase any extra equipment. Also, while heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. and affects a good majority of the global population, most of us probably aren’t thinking about our heart rhythm on a daily basis. Integrating an EKG reader straight into the Watch makes monitoring seamless and could take away the fear some may have about finding out how their heart is doing.

Then there’s the Apple brand, itself. Many hospitals are now partnering with Apple to use iPads and it’s reasonable to think there could be some collaboration with the Watch.

“Doctors, hospital systems, health insurers, and self-insured employers don’t want to manage separate partnerships with each of Apple, Xiaomi, Fitbit, Huawei, Garmin, Polar, Samsung, Fossil, and every other wearable manufacturers. They need a cross-platform product that works for all of their patients,” Cardiogram founder and EKG researcher Brandon Ballinger told TechCrunch. “So if Apple becomes the Apple of healthcare, then a company like Cardiogram or AliveCor can become the Microsofts of this space.”

How does this announcement from Apple affect AliveCor? CEO Vic Gundotra shrugs it off. He tells TechCrunch the vast majority of AliveCor’s business is from KardiaMobile, not it’s Apple-integrated ECG reader. “Apple has long alluded they were building something like this into the device,” Gundotra said, “so we’ve been anticipating it.”

Apple’s Watch isn’t the first with an EKG reader but it will matter to more consumers

Apple’s COO Jeff Williams exuberantly proclaimed Apple’s Watch was the first to get FDA clearance as an over-the-counter electrocardiogram (EKG) reader during the special event at Apple headquarters on Wednesday. While Apple loves to be first to things, that statement is false. AliveCor has held the title of first since late last year for its […]

Apple’s COO Jeff Williams exuberantly proclaimed Apple’s Watch was the first to get FDA clearance as an over-the-counter electrocardiogram (EKG) reader during the special event at Apple headquarters on Wednesday. While Apple loves to be first to things, that statement is false.

AliveCor has held the title of first since late last year for its KardiaMobile device, a $100 stick-like metal unit you attach to the back of a smartphone. Ironically, it also received FDA clearance for the Kardiaband, an ECG reader designed to integrate with the Apple Watch and sold at Apple stores and just this week, the FDA gave the go ahead for AliveCor’s technology to screen for blood diseases, sans blood test.

However, the Apple Watch could be the first to matter to a wider range of consumers. For one, Apple holds a firm 17 percent of the world’s wearables market, with an estimated shipment volume of 28 million units in just 2018. While we don’t know how many AliveCor Kardiaband and KardiaMobile units were sold, it’s very unlikely to be anywhere near those numbers.

For another thing, a lot of people, even those who suspect they have a heart condition, might have some hesitations around getting a separate device just to check. Automatic integration makes it easy for those curious to start monitoring without needing to purchase any extra equipment. Also, while heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. and affects a good majority of the global population, most of us probably aren’t thinking about our heart rhythm on a daily basis. Integrating an EKG reader straight into the Watch makes monitoring seamless and could take away the fear some may have about finding out how their heart is doing.

Then there’s the Apple brand, itself. Many hospitals are now partnering with Apple to use iPads and it’s reasonable to think there could be some collaboration with the Watch.

“Doctors, hospital systems, health insurers, and self-insured employers don’t want to manage separate partnerships with each of Apple, Xiaomi, Fitbit, Huawei, Garmin, Polar, Samsung, Fossil, and every other wearable manufacturers. They need a cross-platform product that works for all of their patients,” Cardiogram founder and EKG researcher Brandon Ballinger told TechCrunch. “So if Apple becomes the Apple of healthcare, then a company like Cardiogram or AliveCor can become the Microsofts of this space.”

How does this announcement from Apple affect AliveCor? CEO Vic Gundotra shrugs it off. He tells TechCrunch the vast majority of AliveCor’s business is from KardiaMobile, not it’s Apple-integrated ECG reader. “Apple has long alluded they were building something like this into the device,” Gundotra said, “so we’ve been anticipating it.”

Google Street View cars will be roaming around the planet to check our air quality with these sensors

Aclima, a San Francisco-based startup building Internet-connected air quality sensors has announced plans to integrate its mobile sensing platform into Google’s global fleet of Street View vehicles. Google uses the Street View cars to map the land for Google Maps. Starting with 50 cars in Houston, Mexico City and Sydney, Aclima will capture air quality […]

Aclima, a San Francisco-based startup building Internet-connected air quality sensors has announced plans to integrate its mobile sensing platform into Google’s global fleet of Street View vehicles.

Google uses the Street View cars to map the land for Google Maps. Starting with 50 cars in Houston, Mexico City and Sydney, Aclima will capture air quality data by generating snapshots of carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and particulate matter (PM2.5)while the Google cars roam the streets. The idea is to ascertain where there may be too much pollution and other breathing issues on a hyper local level in each metropolitan area. The data will then be made available as a public dataset on Google BigQuery.

Aclima has had a close relationship with Google for the past few years and this is not its first ride in Street View cars. The startup deployed its sensors in London earlier this year using Google’s vehicles and three years ago started working with the tech giant to ascertain air health within Google’s own campus as well as around the Bay Area.

“All that work culminated in a major scientific study,”Aclima founder Davida Herzl told TechCrunch, referring to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology revealing air pollution levels varied in difference five to eight times along a city street. “We found you can have the best air quality and the worst air quality all on the same street…Understanding that can help with everything from urban planning to understanding your personal exposure

That initial research now enables Aclima to scale up with Google’s Street View cars in the hopes of gathering even more data on a global basis. Google Street View cars cover the roads in all seven continents and have driven over 100,000 miles in just the state of California collecting over one billion data points since the initial project began with Aclima in 2015.

The first Street View cars with the updated Aclima sensors will hit the road this Fall in the Western United States, as well as in Europe, according to the company.

“These measurements can provide cities with new neighborhood-level insights to help cities accelerate efforts in their transition to smarter, healthier cities,” Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Program Manager for Google Earth Outreach said in a statement. 

Interview with Priscilla Chan: Her super-donor origin story

Priscilla Chan is so much more than Mark Zuckerberg’s wife. A teacher, doctor, and now one of the world’s top philanthropists, she’s a dexterous empath determined to help. We’ve all heard Facebook’s dorm-room origin story, but Chan’s epiphany of impact came on a playground. In this touching interview this week at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Chan […]

Priscilla Chan is so much more than Mark Zuckerberg’s wife. A teacher, doctor, and now one of the world’s top philanthropists, she’s a dexterous empath determined to help. We’ve all heard Facebook’s dorm-room origin story, but Chan’s epiphany of impact came on a playground.

In this touching interview this week at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Chan reveals how a child too embarrassed to go to class because of their broken front teeth inspired her to tackle healthcare. “How could I have prevented it? Who hurt her? And has she gotten healthcare, has she gotten the right dental care to prevent infection and treat pain? That moment compelled me, like, ‘I need more skills to fight these problems.'”

That’s led to a $3 billion pledge towards curing all disease from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s $45 billion-plus charitable foundation. Constantly expressing gratitude for being lifted out of the struggle of her refugee parents, she says “I knew there were so many more deserving children and I got lucky”.

Here, Chan shares her vision for cause-based philanthropy designed to bring equity of opportunity to the underserved, especially in Facebook’s backyard in The Bay. She defends CZI’s apolitical approach, making allies across the aisle despite the looming spectre of the Oval Office. And she reveals how she handles digital well-being and distinguishes between good and bad screen time for her young daughters Max and August. Rather than fielding questions about Mark, this was Priscilla’s time to open up about her own motivations.

Most importantly, Chan calls on us all to contribute in whatever way feels authentic. Not everyone can sign the Giving Pledge or dedicate their full-time work to worthy causes. But it’s time for tech’s rank-and-file rich to dig a little deeper. Sometimes that means applying their engineering and product skills to develop sustainable answers to big problems. Sometimes that means challenging the power structures that led to the concentration of wealth in their own hands. She concludes, “You can only try to break the rules so many times before you realize the whole system’s broken.”

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CB Therapeutics’ lab-grown cannabinoids could unlock new medicines and make others affordable

Marijuana may still be on shaky legal ground, but the therapeutic benefits of the psychoactive molecules — cannabinoids — inside the plant are solidly established. Unfortunately, cultivation of that plant is resource-intensive and yields only tiny amounts of some useful medicines. CB Therapeutics, a new biotech company launching today at the Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield, […]

Marijuana may still be on shaky legal ground, but the therapeutic benefits of the psychoactive molecules — cannabinoids — inside the plant are solidly established. Unfortunately, cultivation of that plant is resource-intensive and yields only tiny amounts of some useful medicines. CB Therapeutics, a new biotech company launching today at the Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield, aims to change the game with cannabinoids produced cleanly and cheaply in the lab — out of sugar.

Co-founder and CEO Sher Ali Butt says the idea struck him when he was working at cannabis testing lab Steep Hill. CBD, a compound found in the plant but in much lower concentrations than THC, the primary intoxicant, was producing extremely helpful pain and anxiety alleviation for some people without a high. The medicinal possibilities were obvious, but high-CBD strains of cannabis are not only uncommon, but a pain to cultivate and process for that purpose.

“CBD had all these applications, and I just thought that there’s got to be a better way to do this. The idea just stuck in my brain,” he told me.

After working on the problem on and off for years he decided to pursue it in earnest. Serendipitously, around this time he ran into Jacob Vogan, an old friend from college who was working in the field of bioengineering. It seemed like a natural fit to them to start the company together.

What CB Therapeutics has done is bioengineer microorganisms — specifically yeast — to manufacture cannabinoids out of plain-old sugars. This type of bioreactor isn’t a new idea; yeast and other organisms are used to create and isolate lots of drugs and substances.

“The vitamin C that we take in tablets, for instance — they didn’t squeeze oranges and lemons to get that,” Butt points out. “There isn’t enough agriculture to supply the global demand. It was produced synthetically and put in a box.”

CB Therapeutics is just doing the same thing for cannabinoids, and not just CBD.

“There are 118 cannabinoids, and only five have been studied,” Butt says. “These compounds are like .1, .01, even .001 percent in the cannabis bud. When you want to extract these, a kilogram can be like $100,000 to $350,000. How is someone supposed to do research with that?”

But the yeast don’t care. They take in sugar and output whatever molecule their biosynthesis pathway has been modified to produce — within reason, of course. You couldn’t output large, complex non-organics, but cannabinoids — even the rare ones — are well within their capabilities.

“The only thing we need to add is sugar — that’s the beauty of what we’ve done,” Butt beamed. “The yeast platform is agnostic, it makes everything for the same price.”

This has several benefits. First, it can bring down the price of a known and useful cannabinoid like CBD. Second, it allows the rarer ones to be studied for a reasonable price, and eventually distributed as well. And third, it takes pressure off the agricultural component of the cannabis industry.

That last is not only good from an ecological perspective, since demand is growing and these plants require a lot of water and land, but from the health side as well. Butt points out that a huge majority of cannabis products tested are found to be contaminated to some degree with pesticides and other unwanted compounds.

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It’s getting better as the marijuana industry becomes an above-board one, but the problem is far from eliminated, and at any rate pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals don’t cease to be a nuisance just because something is legal. The risk is there for the foreseeable future that, ironically, the “natural” option of using the plant itself is going to produce more impurities in the product, not less. But the yeast don’t — can’t, really — taint the product. So what comes out of the bioreactor should theoretically be as pure as the driven snow. (CB Therapeutics does test it, of course.)

It’s worth noting that the company’s main intellectual property is is the cannabinoid biosynthesis pathway it has developed. That hadn’t been fully documented or explored, Butt says, until their work.

Butt sees this change as more or less just the latest example of a useful class of molecules going from difficult to relatively easy to acquire.

“When you aren’t able to provide for the demand, that makes prices artificially high. People are going out and spending tens of thousands on CBD, for medical applications,” he said. “Insulin used to be harvested from pig pancreases, then Genentech solved that. Aspirin used to come from tree bark. This is inevitable for many compounds. We need to bring the cannabis price down to where anybody can use it.”

The pricing and volume are still somewhat of a question mark — once testing and the regulatory hurdles are taken care of, like any pharmaceutical it’s going to be a moving target. But scaling production shouldn’t be hard should the demand grow, and the backlog of new cannabinoids to isolate for testing should provide a source of income as well.

Medicine can be a risky sector for startups but CB Therapeutics seems to have it as close to sewn up as one can reasonably expect; in a way it’s almost alchemical, this ability to cheaply produce something so valuable. But really, it’s just science.

George Church’s genetics on the blockchain startup just raised $4.3 million from Khosla

Nebula Genomics, the startup that wants to put your whole genome on the blockchain, has announced the raise of $4.3 million in Series A from Khosla Ventures and other leading tech VC’s such as Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures and […]

Nebula Genomics, the startup that wants to put your whole genome on the blockchain, has announced the raise of $4.3 million in Series A from Khosla Ventures and other leading tech VC’s such as Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures and Heartbeat Labs.

Nebula has also has forged a partnership with genome sequencing company Veritas Genetics.

Veritas was one of the first companies to sequence the entire human genome for less than $1,000 in 2015, later adding all that info to the touch of a button on your smartphone. Both Nebula and Veritas were cofounded by MIT professor and “godfather” of the Human Genome Project, George Church.

The partnership between the two companies will allow the Nebula marketplace, or the place where those consenting to share their genetic data can earn Nebula’s cryptocurrency called “Nebula tokens” to build upon Veritas open-source software platform Arvados, which can process and share large amounts of genetic information and other big data. According to the company, this crossover offers privacy and security for the physical storage and management of various data sets according to local rules and regulations.

“As our own database grows to many petabytes, together with the Nebula team we are taking the lead in our industry to protect the privacy of consumers while enabling them to participate in research and benefit from the blockchain-based marketplace Nebula is building,” Veritas CEO Mirza Cifric said in a statement.

The partnership will work with various academic institutions and industry researchers to provide genomic data from individual consumers looking to cash in by sharing their own data, rather than by freely giving it as they might through another genomics company like 23andMe .

“Compared to centralized databases, Nebula’s decentralized and federated architecture will help address privacy concerns and incentivize data sharing,” added Nebula Genomics co-founder Dennis Grishin. “Our goal is to create a data flow that will accelerate medical research and catalyze a transformation of health care.”

HP is ‘printing’ drugs for the CDC to speed up antibiotic testing

At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with so-called “super bugs” and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, HP’s Biohacker technology is working with the CDC on a pilot program to “print” and test antibiotics […]

At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with so-called “super bugs” and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, HP’s Biohacker technology is working with the CDC on a pilot program to “print” and test antibiotics in an effort to catch these antimicrobial resistant strains from spreading faster.

The HP D300e Digital Dispenser BioPrinter technology works by using the same set up as a regular ink printer but instead dispenses any combination of drugs in volumes from picoliters to microliters to be used for research purposes.

Part of the reason these bugs spread so rapidly often comes down to mis-use of antibiotics, leading the bacteria to develop a resistance to the drugs available. The CDC hopes to give hospital providers access to the technology nationwide to cut down on the problem.

“Once a drug is approved for use, the countdown begins until resistance emerges,” Jean Patel, PH.D. D (ABMM), Science Team Lead, Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit at CDC said in a statement. “To save lives and protect people, it is vital to make technology accessible to hospital labs nationwide. We hope this pilot will help ensure our newest drugs last longer and put gold-standard lab results in healthcare providers’ hands faster.”

The 3D bioprinting sector has been experiencing rapid growth over the last few years and will continue on pace through the next decade, mainly due to R&D, according to market researchers. Innovation in the space includes printing of organs, human tissue and drug research and development.

Further, this potentially valuable antibiotic resistance research could help patient care teams stem a grim future where we experience a regression in health and life spans due to no longer having the ability to treat currently curable diseases.

The HP BioPrinter is currently used by labs and pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead, which tests for drugs used against the Ebola virus. It is also being used in various CRISPR applications. The CDC will use these printers in four regional areas spread throughout the U.S. within the Antibiotic Resistance (AR) Lab Network to develop antimicrobial susceptibility test methods for new drugs, according to HP.

RDMD attacks rare diseases with data mined from health records

You wouldn’t expect a medical app to get its start as a Snapchat competitor. Neither did video chat startup TapTalk’s founder Onno Faber. But four years ago he was diagnosed with a rare disease called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 that caused tumors leading Onno to lose hearing in one ear. He’s amongst the one in ten people with […]

You wouldn’t expect a medical app to get its start as a Snapchat competitor. Neither did video chat startup TapTalk’s founder Onno Faber. But four years ago he was diagnosed with a rare disease called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 that caused tumors leading Onno to lose hearing in one ear. He’s amongst the one in ten people with an uncommon health condition suffering from the lack of data designed to invent treatments for their ails. And he’s now the co-founder of RDMD.

Emerging from stealth today, RDMD aggregates and analyzes medical records and sells the de-identified data to pharmaceutical companies to help them develop medicines. In exchange for access to the data, patients gets their fragmented medical records organized into an app they can use to track their treatment and get second opinions. It’s like Flatiron Health, the Google-backed cancer data startup that just got bought for $2 billion, but for rare diseases.

Now RDMD is announcing it’s raised a $3 million seed round led by Lux Capital and joined by Village Global, Shasta, Garuda, First Round’s Healthcare Coop, and a ton of top healthtech angels including Flatiron investors and board members. The cash will help RDMD expand to build out its product and address more rare diseases.

RDMD founders (from left): Nancy Yu and Onno Faber

We believe that the traditional way rare disease R&D is done needs to change” RDMD CEO Nancy Yu tells TechCrunch. The former head of corp dev at 23andme explains that, “There are over 7,000 rare diseases and growing, yet <5% of them have an FDA-approved therapy . . . it’s a massive problem.” 

While data infrastructure supports development of treatments for more common diseases like cancer and diabetes, rare diseases have been ignored because it’s wildly expensive and difficult to collect the high-quality data required to invent new medicines. But “RDMD generates research-grade, regulatory-grade data from patient medical records for use in rare disease drug R&D” says Yu. The more data it can collect, the more pharma companies can do to help patients.

Trading Utility For Patient Data

With RDMD’s app, a patient’s medical data that’s strewn across hospitals and health facilities can be compiled, organized and synthesized. Handwritten physicians’ notes and faxes are digitized with optical character recognition, structuring the data for scientific research. RDMD lays out a patients’ records in a disease-specific timeline that summarizes their data that can be kept updated, delivered to specialists for consultations, or shared with their family and caregivers.

If users opt in, that data can be anonymized and provided to research organizations, hospitals, and pharma companies that pay RDMD, though these patients can delete their accounts at any time. Since it’s straight from the medical records, the data is reliable enough to be regulation-compliant and research-ready. That allows it to accelerate the drug development process that’s both lucrative and life-saving. “It normally takes millions of dollars over several years to gather this type of data in rare diseases” Yu notes. “For the first time, we have a centralized and consented set of data for use in translational research, in a fraction of the time and cost.”

So far, RDMD has enrolled 150 patients with neurofibromatosis. But the potential to expand to other rare diseases attracted a previous pre-seed round from Village Global and new funding from angels like Clover Health CEO and Flatiron board member Vivek Garipalli, Flatiron investor and GV (Google Ventures) partner Vineeta Agarwala, Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal, former 23andme president Andy Page, and the husband and wife duo of former Instagram VP of product Kevin Weil and 137 Ventures managing director Elizabeth Weil.

“Onno and Nancy realized there’s an opportunity to do in rare diseases what Flatiron has done in oncology — to aggregate clinical data from patients, and to leverage that data in clinical trials and other use cases for biotech and pharma” says Shasta partner Nikhil Basu Trivedi. RDMD will be competing against pharma contract research organizations that incur high costs for collecting data the startup gets for free from patients in exchange for its product. Luckily, Flatiron’s exit paved the way for industry acceptance of RDMD’s model.

“The biggest risk for our company is if we lose our focus on providing real, immediate value to rare disease patients and families. Patients are the reason we are all here, and only with their trust can we fundamentally change how rare disease drug research is done” says Yu. RDMD will have to ensure it can protect the privacy of patients, the security of data, and the efficacy of its application to drug development.

Hindering this process is just one more consequence of our fractured medical records. Hopefully if startups like RDMD and Flatiron can demonstrate the massive value created by unifying medical data, it will pressure the healthcare power players to cooperate on a true industry standard.

Clear for beer: Biometrics provider now enables alcohol purchases at Seahawks and Mariners games

Clear, the biometrics company you’ve probably seen at airports and at a few other prominent queues, is rolling out the capability to simultaneously verify your ID and pay for an alcoholic drink with your fingerprint. It’s only at Seattle’s CenturyLink and Safeco Fields (and only a handful of concessions stands at those) but if it’s successful you can bet we’ll be seeing more of it.

Clear, the biometrics company you’ve probably seen at airports and at a few other prominent queues, is rolling out the capability to simultaneously verify your ID and pay for an alcoholic drink with your fingerprint. It’s only at Seattle’s CenturyLink and Safeco Fields (and only a handful of concessions stands at those) but if it’s successful you can bet we’ll be seeing more of it.

That makes it the first time in the U.S. that biometrics are used for both age check and payment, but this exception will almost certainly become less uncommon in time: Clear announced its intention to pursue the payments side of biometrics when it raised $15 million last year.

This also marks the first NFL team to partner with Clear; Seahawks fans going to home games this season will be able to use a separate Clear lane at the northwest and southwest gates. It can be quite a melee or a considerable wait getting into both venues (I’m a local) so this will almost certainly be embraced by the Clear-privileged among Seattle sports fans. Sounders games at CenturyLink, by the way, will have the same perks, as will any concerts at either venue.

After you get inside the field, you’ll have to hoof it a bit to find one of the concession stands that Clear serves from. At Safeco it’s Double Play in section 136 and Shortstop Beer in 185. At CenturyLink it’s at the Delta Sky360 Club, by sections 210 and 234.

So, it’s not exactly everywhere. But during the beer rush of halftime or the seventh inning stretch at a good ballgame, it might be worth it to traverse a few sections and skip the line. Unfortunately, Clear doesn’t get you a discount on the outrageously priced drinks, so savor those $10 tallboys. Your wallet may stay in your pocket, but the money flies out of it just the same.

It’s a bit remarkable to me that alcohol merchants are allowed to take anything but a state-issued ID or passport — but as at the airport, Clear has been given authority to track those IDs internally and verify their authenticity and the identity of the person. Obviously the company’s success there warmed the frozen hearts of our state’s Liquor Control Board and allowed this small divergence from the status quo.

There are still plenty of Mariners games at which to test this out, and the Seahawks preseason starts Thursday, at which time the Clear lane for entry and fingerprint-powered concessions will be available to all 12s. Assuming it goes well we can expect it to show up at other major sports venues soon.