Jessica Federer, Managing Partner of Supernode Ventures, has a passion for women’s health. Her career starts working in government, transitioning to working with government and big pharma. Jessica combines her dynamic background into her new role. She brings her comprehensive approach to looking at women’s health not as a point in time but as a multi-faceted challenge. In her line of sight, Jessica focuses on big problems that need better solutions – like cardiovascular health and autoimmune diseases. Listen to this episode and find the value of precision medicine with Jessica Federer.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Precision Medicine: Following The Data Before Prescribing With Jessica Federer
Combining Regulatory Expertise, Love For Data And A Passion For Women’s Health
I’m really excited to share the conversation we had with Jessica Federer, who brings so many different kinds of experience to her new role as Managing Partner of Supernode Ventures, which has an explicit focus on investing in women’s health. She’s been in corporate. She worked at Bayer and helped them create their digital health strategy. She’s worked for the government. She understands regulatory so she is a triple, quadruple threat in terms of someone who has the skills and wherewithal to help move things forward.
My favorite part of learning what she does is learning that she is not focused on small diseases, but rather on the big picture. This is a woman who thinks big and that to me is incredible. We’re talking about cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and then also smaller subjects that are not small like menopause. I think that was super interesting to learn.
It’s so encouraging. We always talk about this. We’re hopeful and helpful that we’re starting to look at women’s health more appropriately, not as an individual condition, but as something that could affect all the different aspects of a woman’s life.
One last thing. We’re often speaking to investors or people who are on the financial side of healthcare. She really hit a nerve with me when she said she’s super early with pre-seed and with Series A investing. She’s seeing a vision early on in a company’s formation and mission. Let’s talk to Jessica.
Here’s the Hot Flash. Eighty percent of Americans with autoimmune disease are women. Two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women.
We are so excited to have our guest now, Jessica Federer, who is currently the Managing Partner of Supernode Ventures. She’s a jill of all trades. She’s been Chief Digital Officer at Bayer. She has served on boards. She’s been in many different roles. We’re happy to have her because she brings such a broad and unique perspective. Welcome.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
We are delighted to have you. Let’s start with the easy one. How did you get here? Wind up with the focus you have now? We love you as a result. Tell us a little bit also about Supernode and what the focus is.
Supernode is VC based in New York and we are investing in early-stage healthcare companies with a focus on women. This is a women’s health focus and we’re doing it as early as we can for investments, pre-seed, seed, and Series A. My background and how I got here is following the data. Back before we had digital health, there were bio stats and epidemiology. As public health nerd, I dug in and following that data evolution is what brought me through all of my roles. My career evolved with the evolution of how we use data and how technology has empowered us to be more precise in finding the signal through the noise.
I started out in public health working for the HHS, then went and did my Master’s in Public Health. I was part of the team that developed the 30-day all-cause heart failure readmission rate, which everybody in the outcomes world knows. I went from working for the government to working with the government. I joined Bayer in regulatory affairs. That was the best place to join a pharma company if you’re going to go to the dark side, which I recommend. I spent some time in the dark side myself and worked a lot with the dark side.
In regulatory, you see the full journey of any new product from the very beginning stages through the toxicology studies, phases 1, 2, 3, and when the asset is taken off the market if it’s taken off the market. It’s all about the data to show a drug is safe and it works. As a data nerd, I love that. Our field evolved and you need data to show that a drug was worth paying for. All the pharma companies started a market access team. I raised my hand, moved over to Germany, and helped start the market access team for Bayer. If you follow the evolution of how data is used, my career evolved with that. Before I bore you with a whole bunch of German Bayer world, jumping to my last role at Bayer, I was the Chief Digital Officer, which was the Second Chief Digital Officer in the pharma space.
I led the digital transformation across pharma, consumer care, crop science, and animal health. That was looking at how you take a 150-year-old company and bring it up to where we are now. There’s a lot of the unsexy stuff, processes, platforms, and harmonizations, but then there was a lot of the sexy stuff. Once you get your data cleaned up, out of silos, integrated, and you know what you have, you can do some of the cool things like moving towards digital farming where you’re selling crop yield guarantees instead of individual products. Also, in healthcare selling outcomes, lines of vision are gained instead of injections. That was really an exciting space.
I promised the board I would stay through the Monsanto acquisition, which I did. After we acquired Monsanto, I moved back to the US and joined a VC group in Boston. I focused very much on clinical trial tech and a lot more on the development side. I started to get to know the women’s health space a lot more. At Bayer, we’d always been in women’s health as well. It’s just such a personal passion. I think the field is finally ready for more investment in women’s health. It’s always been necessary, but the capital wasn’t there. Recently, I moved to Supernode Ventures, which was founded by the brilliant and amazing Laurel Touby, and we kicked off this focus on women’s health.
It’s just been remarkable because as you know and you say on your show many times, this field is really underdeveloped. There’s a huge gap from that data gap because women weren’t required to be included in NIH studies until 1993. There’s a huge lack of innovation that would’ve come had we had that knowledge earlier. Now we’re seeing it and making amazing companies. You see what’s happening in the market right now. This is a great time to invest in new businesses.Women’s health is underdeveloped. There's a huge data gap because women weren't required to be included in NIH studies until 1993. Click To Tweet
I’ve been in this field so long that my kids said, “Now it’s hip but you’re not hip.” I said, “I stayed in long enough until it became hip.”
You’re the OG, Rachel.
You’re hip and data is sexy. This is quite the conversation.
I did want to mention, you had said something really interesting, and then I’m going to let you, guys, geek out on women’s health conditions. It’s understanding how a drug goes through a process. I felt like having sat through all the hearings for Addyi, which you both know, but for our audience, a product that was approved for hypoactive sexual desire disorder. You go to the hearings, you hear the patients and companies, and this process that you think is so magical. You start to see how the sausage is made. Sometimes that’s comforting. Sometimes it’s terrifying.
It was quite an eye-opening experience because as you said, we want to make it safe. That’s what we do in the early phases, then we want to make sure it works. That’s also important. That’s no longer good enough because so many of these drugs with all the money that’s been spent to develop them need to make a return, and you need someone to cover them. As you’re entering women’s health as an investor, you’ve been in women’s health for a long time, what are some of the areas of focus? I always love to match those up with the stuff that Alyssa sees walk through her office door.
The definition of women’s health varies depending on who you talk to. We take the NIH definition, which is anything that differently or disproportionately impacts women. We go beyond the reproductive field, most fertility and menopause. They’re very important investment areas, but we want to look holistically across the whole woman and her whole life. That includes things like autoimmune disease, which is 80% of women in the US, brain health, where 2/3 of Alzheimer’s patients in the US are women, GI, and osteoporosis. There are so many conditions where women are disproportionately impacted, even cardiovascular disease, where women are 50% more likely to die in the year after a heart attack. We’re looking across that broad continuum of health and wellness.
Is it devices, pharmaceuticals, and consumers as well?
I always say you want to invest in what you know, and what I know is digital health and the data. My partner, Laurel, had a great track record in investing in technology companies. We’ve combined that and have a focus more on digital health. That being said, if there are other solutions that have a heavy data or digital component that will move the field forward and empower, support, and advance women’s health, we’re very interested.
I’m curious because in my career of many years as a clinician, what has truly exploded is the menopause space. Menopause is nothing new. It’s been going on since the beginning of time. I’m just curious if you feel like is this getting saturated yet, what do you think about all of the platforms that are focused on hormones, supplements, or any of the other ailments that may be causing suffering needlessly? The second part of my question is, you’ve clearly lived through the WHI information and then the reversal of it all. We can go through what that is for our audience momentarily, but I’m just so curious on your take on that, and whether it’s going to pretty much revamp the way pharmaceutical companies or the companies you’re investing in are now making their focuses.
The first one is far from saturated. This is the tip of the iceberg the fact that now people know what menopause is and are hearing about it. It means we are scratching the surface of starting to understand the systemic effects just to understand the progression of women’s health, the acceptance in society, and then the research that’s necessary to understand what happens when your hormone levels are changing and what does that mean to every part of your body? I think we are not even scratching the surface. You’ve probably talked to Carolee Lee of Women’s Health Access Matters. This 2023, particularly on the 30th anniversary, she’s challenging us all saying, “What can we do in the next 3 years, not the next 30?”
It’s been 30 years since women were required to be included in NIH-funded research, but we don’t have another 30 years to wait. What can we do in the next three? Can we take a diagnosis of endometriosis from 10 years to 10 days? Yes, we can use a genetic test. Can we take ovarian cancer from being a diagnosis that requires the removal of an ovary and a fallopian tube to something that’s non-invasive? What are the things we can do in three years that make a difference now?
The piece that’s frustrating but also motivating is that we can’t keep waiting on the same stakeholders that have not made the changes we needed for the last 30 years. If we’re going to do something different, we as women have to do it differently. That’s why we’re investing in women’s health because if you look around, women are 2% of GPs. That’s probably why you have 1% of life science funding going into women’s health. Until we bring more women into being LPs, GPs, investors, and those deploying capital, we’re not going to see the change in the market at the speed that we need it without that engagement at all levels.
I would say the corollary to follow the data is follow the money and make sure the money is following the data because we’re now seeing almost the daily growth of new funds focused on women’s health, female founders, or diverse founders. We’re having a lot more conversations, which is amazing. One of the things I’m concerned about that I’ve been hearing lately, speaking to folks who are pitching their businesses and trying to raise money is, you’ll hear from a VC in response to some aspect of menopause.
For those who have been tuning in to our show for a long time, it is not 1 or 10 things, it’s 37, 54, and 196 things. What we’ve been hearing is investors saying, “I looked at a menopause company, so I don’t need to look at them. We’re good.” It’s just crazy. One of the things I think we also have to work against is this belief and narrative that we’ve arrived at so there’s nothing to worry about anymore. There’s still a ton of work to be done. I want to circle back on some of the particular diseases that you mentioned and focused on. Alyssa, take ovarian cancer, PCOS, and endometriosis. You see patients suffer.
You see people with these things day in, day out. In my opinion, when you think about broadly what needs to be focused on, it’s the obesity crisis because that’s the root of many causes of heart disease or other types of diabetes for example. Obesity is certainly a heightened risk for that. I think that’s super important. That affects both women and men, but it specifically seems to affect women during their perimenopause and menopause journey. Number two is heart disease. We forget that cardiovascular disease is not a man’s disease. It was always extrapolated to consider women to men when they reviewed studies, and that’s not the case.
We have totally different receptors for different hormones and different amounts and whatnot. My thought is that we are going to find that precision medicine with genetics testing and genetics propensities become all important. This is my opinion, but I really think that there’s a lot of literature to support this. We’ll be able to direct care management, follow-up, screening, and prevention to people based on their genetic makeup. That’s unbelievable but it does take time on research. When people do a 12-week study or a 6-month study, it seems short. If you want to get ten years of data, you have to be patient with it. There are always big turnarounds that sometimes occur as it did with that menopause study.
This is the Holy Grail to have that personalized medicine and precision medicine approach. Unfortunately, the pragmatist in me says I’ve been going to damn precision medicine conferences for decades now, and we’re no closer. Looking at how our regulatory process currently approves things. There’s a dose. Here’s depending on all these factors and here’s the adjusted dosage. We’re not quite set up for precision medicine as a system yet. We can find the small lucky few that can go to specialized care, have every aspect of their body analyzed, and access precision medicine because they can afford it. That’s still a dream for most people.
Will you share with people who are reading when you use the expression precision medicine? Especially in business and in women’s health, we sometimes use the same terms but we don’t necessarily mean the same thing.
It’s an idea that before prescribing you an autoimmune drug, chemotherapy drug, or any treatment, we first look deeply at how your own body would respond to that. It’s the whole multi-omics. Now that whole multi-omic space is evolving rapidly, which will help. It’s not just your genome. It’s how do you metabolize things and how are the cells working? It’s all the dynamics of your body and how you respond to things. I think we still don’t yet know what we don’t know in this space. It’s almost akin to brain health. We still don’t understand so much. The little we do know makes us feel empowered and a little dangerous, but there’s still so much more we don’t understand.
I think what’s exciting, going back to the nerdy data field and why data is so sexy, the promise is that at some point, the data becomes more signal than noise. Right now, we gather all this data. We can have your genome, microbiome, health and pharmacy records, scans, labs, and all this data, but it’s the pain to make any sense of that. It’s almost clinically impossible to then use that for a care decision. At some point, and we’re very close to this, technology is going to be able to have enough of a pattern recognition or training to be able to start to make some useful prescriptions for us out of that in a way that regulators, healthcare providers, and their insurance companies are going to be comfortable with. There are so many factors at play in changing care decisions.
It actually has already come to play over the years and gradually. Let’s take for example the BRCA gene, the BReast CAncer sequences that get checked for. We know that we can direct screening in a different way to people who carry this gene and avoid unnecessary testing and screening for people who don’t. That’s a very simplistic way of looking at it, but that’s where I’m hoping to see the future go.
The gene therapies that are now coming to the market are created for each individual person. The cost is quite high, but they work because they were developed for each individual person.Gene therapies are now coming to the market to create for each person. The cost is quite high, but they work because they were developed for each person. Click To Tweet
What’s your thought on the association when some of us physicians also go to the dark side? What’s your feeling about that mix of traditional medicine going over to the pharma side?
Also, the combination of that to build on that question with digital health solutions.
I shouldn’t call it the dark side because I love the industry that puts all of its efforts into curing disease and helping people. The pharma industry, for all the joking and teasing, we trust it and it works. We take medicines and we see what happens. There’s no other place where I look at the timelines that we have in that industry. You’re following an asset for ten years. First, you’re getting all the science, then you have the required toxicology studies, then you have the required first-in-man, which is still mostly first-in-man, but we’ll get to that later.
You then got your phase 2, phase 3, then hopefully, your regulatory approval, and your phase 4, and then all of the additional indications of other ways that medicine can be used in addition to the first thing it was approved to be used for. You’ve got a company investing billions of dollars over such a long time. It’s the process that very tightly regulated controlled process that takes a molecule through ten years of that cycle to get to your medicine cabinet. That process is so important, but that ten years is what we need to change and update.
That’s the piece where together with regulators and some more innovative companies, were starting to challenge what is possible. Gratefully, during the pandemic, we saw how fast we can move if all the stakeholders are on the same page. I’m very hopeful that as we talk about the technology and the vast amounts of data, the regulatory policies are starting to align. During our lifetime, we’re going to see some exciting and meaningful developments that hopefully, we’ll get to benefit from.
Is there one particular area of women’s health or medicine that you find the most scintillating, important, and urgent? Obviously, you’ve got a lot of funds in your portfolio there.
I think anything that is more holistic is very exciting because as women, we’re not just, “Here’s our ovaries, brains, immune system, thyroid, and skin.” We look at everything in silos. For all of us, not just women, all of those things are integrated, but our health system has divvied them up into separate silos. I find a particular amount of promise and solutions that aren’t point solution for one specific thing but have the opportunity to look at a human as a human. That’s a huge thing to ask because innovators do one thing. At some level, we have to see what is that integrator.
What brings all those puzzle pieces together in a way that our health system can make sense of it so that all of those individual solutions paint a meaningful holistic picture? We’re not leaving each individual, in this case, each woman alone to figure out, “Where do I go for brain health, skin health, and thyroid?” That’s too much to ask of anyone to be able to figure out all of those different silos.
We’re encouraged even in the couple of months that we’ve been doing this show how the narrative has shifted so much from, you have a problem, here’s a product for you. Looking at her across the range of her total sexual reproductive life and the hormones that have an impact on pregnancy. The response might be different than what you have in menopause, but there are some forms of pattern recognition. One of the things I always admire about Alyssa when she talks about how she counsels patients is she does look at them as human beings, not just a person who might have pain for one reason or another.
The other thing that I think is so interesting about all this is it is hard. We talk about this in menopause. You can’t be a mental health expert for anxiety and obesity. Being a hot flash expert to treat these things all under one roof or therapeutic area is a challenge. It’s the reality of how complex these things are. It’s, again, how you said or how our system is set up. One of the positive things that I saw coming from COVID is this bigger recognition that we, he, they were full people.
For instance, when we talk about menopause and lost work days, we never before talked about menopause in the context of the financial impact it could have on the woman as the breadwinner, contributor to the family finances, and his or her ability also to take care of the family. Now, COVID has required us to do that. It turns out, without childcare, you can’t be a worker, provider, and childcare person unless you’re an octopus and have eight arms. I feel energized by the fact that we’re making progress in how we look at women’s health much more broadly.
I was talking with someone from Alaska. You have to have some of your audience check this. Apparently, in Alaska, the community health centers do have all the different specialties literally under one roof. It’s the only state in the US where you can get that, which is fascinating to me. One of the things that’s fascinating about our non-health system in the US is. If you live in Alaska, you could have all of those specialties under one roof. You might have to travel for two days to get to your local community.
There clearly are leading-edge institutions where you can get an entire body workup.
This is paid for by the state, though.
I’m curious about your thought on the whole process of telehealth. I’m sure you’re involved with this, whether it’s peripherally or directly, and whether there’s sexy data to allow us to think that it’s helping patient care or helping with access or both. Is it causing more visits to be necessary because everything has to be done twice or three times, once remotely, and then twice in the office? I’m curious if this has been brushed by you in any way.
I’m going to turn that back on you, Dr. Dweck. What do you think? You’re the doctor seeing these patients and you’re probably doing telehealth visits.
I’m going to say that number one, I have literally done patient visits while they are sitting in a meeting or they are sitting in the bathroom. To me, telehealth is great because it does provide access. You get instant advice and care. I don’t think I’m old-fashioned. I still think there’s an art to putting your hands on and seeing somebody’s face, doing an exam, and getting a thorough history without the distractions of what the background might be. I think that it’s been great, but it’s still in its infancy. I’m sure that there are many startups who are coming to you for funding that involve telehealth or involve telehealth with then a solution that they offer for the problem that somebody came to their telehealth platform for.
With a lot of these solutions, it’s helpful to look at what’s the value that they’re truly bringing to the system. A lot of the early telehealth companies had valuations that if you looked at it critically, there’s no way they could deliver enough value to the system. They’re not replacing the doctor. Some of these things didn’t make sense. Now you’re seeing the corrections in the market. My opinion is very close to yours, Dr. Dweck, that it has a role to play in decentralizing care and making care more accessible. Whether you’re in a rural part of the country or in an institution, in prison, or in a nursing home that doesn’t have access to a specialist, telehealth can play an important access role, but it alone is not a solution. It’s an enabler.
Often, it’s helpful to think of anything digital as an enabler. It’s not the end in and of itself. It’s enabling something else. I like solutions that break down barriers, make things more accessible, make things more inclusive, and make it easier for people. To some extent, telehealth checks a lot of those boxes. It’s how then we integrate that with maybe the home visit, in-person visit, and the delivery of the medication, meals, or whatever else is necessary to have that holistic picture covered for care. This all sounds pie in the sky in the US because most people have very little access to care anyway.
When I was living in Germany for a decade, I remember the doctor would do home visits, and then she would call to see how you’re feeling later. There’s this whole other approach to medicine that felt so foreign. Yet, it’s something that if countries like Germany and Korea can implement that type of public health approach after the war and have these systems that function quite well, there’s no reason the US can’t do it except for political will.
We are so excited to see what you and Supernode Ventures bring forth in terms of a new and better solution. We appreciate you taking the time. I know every time I finish one of these conversations, I think to myself, “I’m glad Jessica is on this team focused on the same stuff because I do like to be helpful.” I think we have a lot of brilliant people who care about this and are going to make a difference, hopefully, as you said, not in 30 years, but in 3 years.
I have to thank you both. Dr. Dweck, in addition to treating your patients, you’re also raising awareness on so many different causes.
We sure are trying.
It’s a gift and mission. It’s incredible. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experience and your expertise. Rachel, you are the OG in this space and it’s such a pleasure to see your leadership and relationships that have cultivated so many businesses and meaningful benefits for people.
That is so nice of you to say. I’m just going to call it quits for the week because no one’s ever going to say anything that nice to me. In terms of a few logistics, we have a pretty big inventory. You can expect this to come out in 4 to 6 weeks. We will let you know. Hopefully, the Monday or Tuesday before the episode drops on a Thursday. We will provide you with social media assets, which we will share all over the place. Hope you will, too. We are excited. Thank you for taking the time.
It’s been a pleasure to have you, ladies.
Thank you so much, Jessica. I’m going to reach out about other stuff soon.
Yes, please. Anytime.
About Jessica Federer
Jessica is an investor and board member adept at deploying technology to make meaningful advancements for both business and society. As a Managing partner at Supernode Ventures, she is investing in early-stage digital health companies with scalable solutions, with a focus on women’s health.
Previously, she was one of the first Chief Digital Officers in the pharma industry, leading the digital transformation for Bayer A.G. across the Pharmaceutical, Consumer Care, Crop Science and Animal Health businesses.
She is recognized as one of the top 100 CDOs and a leading health tech influencer and served on the United Nations ITU advisory board. Federer began her public health career as an analyst at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in the US Department of Health and Human Services.
She earned a Bachelor of Science from George Washington University, and a Master of Public Health from Yale.