by Yehudit Haspel Ben-Dak
Alike, is a new Israeli healthcare application for people with chronic diseases who wish to discover treatments and ways to improve their health by learning from those who are as similar to them as possible medically and lifestyle.
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Founded in 2020 by Amnon Bar-Lev, Ohad Tzadok, and Prof. Varda Shalev, Alike’s artificial intelligence technology combines crowdsourcing and big data.
Based in Tel Aviv, the company has raised 5 million in a seed round led by Pitango Venture Capital’s health tech fund and employs 17 people.
Amnon Bar-Lev, former President of Check Point, a $15 billion Nasdaq-listed network and cloud security company, brings his deep management and execution skills from 25+ years of experience to Alike.Health.
Bar-Lev, who grew Check Point’s revenue from $500 million to $2 billion over his 12-year tenure, became a passionate healthcare advocate. After his time at Check Point and before founding Alike, Bar-Lev returned to pursue graduate studies at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University in order to better understand medicine.
So, you wake up one day and decide to study molecular genetics?
This may sound naive, but I wanted to learn and engage in something that could make the world a better place. Molecular genetics (a field that focuses on the human ability to identify and diagnose hereditary diseases and detect precise mutations, YHB)
Actually, I have exhausted my previous interest. I ran a public company, Checkpoint, and wanted a different content world for a long time. I found it in the academic world. I saw some fascinating, exciting themes there. I already have a degree in computer engineering, and I wanted to do some real work. I was surprised at how happy the people involved in this field are.
After speaking with Tel-Aviv university’s President and a few professors, I realized that I wish to learn real things in-depth. I was curious to explore other completely new terms in the world. We think we know a lot, but that’s not true. I learn a new language, new terms. The tech world in which I and many of us are involved is, in fact, a deterministic world and leads to ability’s limitations.
We are very different as people. There is indeed a more complex physics in computer science, but the world of medicine is different as human behavior has infinite dimensions. McKinsey’s research dealt with what affects and how much is genetics takes part in human health. The study found that about 20%-30% involve genetics, like cancer, etc. Still, many components are cognate to our habits, like diet, sleeping habits, sports, stressful situations, socioeconomic status, and more.
The world of medicine is “very noisy.” In professional terms, it is called the signal-to-noise ratio. In medicine, you have to be as accurate as possible, and then you have to make groups of smaller clusters, for example, a specific type of tumor, like breast cancer”.
What other insights led you to establish your startup?
Another leading insight is that there is plenty of knowledge patients are holding about themselves. Mainly people with chronic diseases.
In the past, the doctor considered God. Today, we are more aware of our health and immediately look at Dr. Google to get information or other social networks and options. But there is a problem with Dr. Google and Dr. Facebook. To understand my health problem in more detail, I need to create a similar environment but with people like me, with a similar health issue and background.
Also, there is a need to look at clinical similarities in age, diseases, weight, medications, etc. Moreover, I need to know my ALIKE people’s social issues such as age, sex, sex of choice, residence, sports, smoking, diet preferences, vitamins to create a personal profile.
Let’s say you’re facing a certain surgery. Or for example, you were told you had to take statins because you have high cholesterol. You want to contact someone who is going through the same process.
May you elaborate on how do you do the matching?
As for the similarities, we do use artificial intelligence. There is a number for each feature, and then it is possible to create a group with similar characteristics. In the United States, it is possible to connect to your medical file. It is also possible to insert the information manually.
We already have over 20,000 users in the United States, and it is growing significantly. In the coming months, we will reach 100,000 users and another million in a year.
How do you break the barrier of fear, creating trust in exchanging medical information?
The system is anonymous. The user uses a fictive name, Avatar. Still, anonymity can be breached by hackers…
As the former Checkpoint President, it is already your well-known territory, the defensive walls…
Correct. That’s why we do not keep any medical detail of our users. I can contact my user, but I don’t know who he is.
Even if hackers break into our database, they will be able to reach nothing but little pieces of information. Also, we manipulate the dates of lab tests. The data is de-identified. The system is highly safe and a secure environment.
What is your target audience?
We think of patients with chronic diseases. People with diabetes are only one example.
You might find it very intriguing that more women are approaching the app, and the age range is between 20—25 years old.
Maybe because they are more computer literate, less fearful?
“I am not sure. It is better to start with the young and then to go up the age group. We start with chronic pain and then move towards more common symptoms and disabilities like ADD.
The application is aimed at everyone. We wish to replace Facebook groups because the information provided there is unreliable.
Sick people don’t find enough people to talk to. At Alike you can talk to another match one on one and help each other. On Facebook, on an average day, about 1% write posts, and only about 3% respond. In our groups, of those who use the app, about 15%-20% write posts, about 35%-30% respond, and 20% use the chat. It’s a much bigger and deeper scope.”
The older people need a friendlier application, isn’t it?
“No need for special tech abilities. If they use Facebook, they can use Alike application easily.”
The mental aspect is critical as well. How do you deal with this?
I can show you a lot of questions and answers (Bar-Lev demonstrates to me in real-time). Either you want specific information, or you really want mental help. Mental advice is integral and important part. We have a lot of varied inquiries about mental health issues. Either they are looking for specific information, or they want mental help in real-time. It shows the wisdom of mass works.
What about scientific information?
“There are lots of other apps that deal with this. Actually, not the most successful ones. Most people do not like to read studies. The main goal of people is first to talk to other people who suffer from the same syndrome. The amount of people who know how to read research intelligently is not high because they need prior knowledge. This is not what people are looking for. They want quick and accessible information from someone who has gone through the same symptoms, process“.
The application is based on total trust, between me and the virtual person on the other side. Is it a barrier?
Not at all. Take for example two options. A restaurant that is recommended by a journalist who covers the restaurant and provides a review, or friends who have already visited the restaurant and ate there. Whose recommendation would you trust better?
Obviously, we trust recommendations or tips from people who are close to us and people with experience in, for example, reading books, movies, hotels.
Many do not trust the advice of their doctors, but trust other people with what seemed to be the same condition. What other options do we have?
Do doctors see the app as competition or completion?
The app is more of completion with the uniqueness of content that users are constantly producing in light of their personal experience.
I assume you’re already thinking about the next startup ….
“First I strive to have millions of Alike users who can really improve their quality of life. I want to make an impact on the world. Contribute to humanity, make a mark. I could sit at the Caribbean foot on foot, but I can’t resist the challenge, the meaning. I examine the posts, questions, and comments of the users of the app. It is fascinating. To build something like Alike needs the dimension of depth.
There are other companies that deal with sharing medical information. What is your uniqueness?
“Alike is the only company that sees the patient holistically, age, gender, background diseases, weight, diet, and much more. Based on the complex profile and based on the user’s need, Alike finds the most appropriate group to help that user.
As mentioned before, Alike is a combination of “Tinder” for finding similar people, “Waze” to allow learning from people who have already experienced the same health experience, all on a social network anonymously and securely and all based on comprehensive information.”