Drugs in a Digital World: Shalem Grad Or Shoval ’22 Launches Innovative Digital-Health Company
“Technology is an integral part of our lives. It’s woven into the fabric of our daily routines,” says Or Shoval ’22 from his office near Tel Aviv, an environment “just slightly” more fast-paced, he smiles, than the one in which he recently completed his undergraduate degree.
“It’s second nature to use Waze to improve our driving experience, or Fitbit when we exercise,” he continues. “Why not take advantage of software applications that can unlock the power of our medications, too?”
Why not, indeed: Most medications, explains Shoval, work for some patients, but not all; even advanced cancer drugs like immunotherapy are effective in a minority of cases. At the same time, our brains are increasingly recognized as playing an important, even critical role in immune functioning. By creating a platform that integrates mind and body—through cognitive-behavioral exercises, guided meditations, and other practices drawn from neuroscience, such as multisensory conditioning—Shoval’s company believes it can optimize drugs’ impact and save many more lives each year.
“Remepy triggers brain mechanisms to influence our immune system on a molecular level. This combination of medicine and software,” he concludes, “will become the new frontier in the pharma industry.”
Remepy—a combination of “remedy” and “therapy,” or the merging of the chemical and the digital for a more powerful approach to fighting disease—is the innovative health platform co-founded by Shoval last year. Dozens of conversations with regulatory authorities and almost as many meetings with top neurologists later (“I kept going back to them,” Shoval explains, “until, instead of saying, ‘Fix this,’ they asked, “Hey, can I join you guys?”), Remepy has raised more than $2.5M in seed funding and is currently in negotiations with several Israeli and global pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.
Not exactly what one would expect for a major in Jewish philosophy.
“I always knew that I wanted to build something of my own, and I felt that investing in myself and my intellectual growth would provide the right foundation,” says Shoval of his decision to study at Shalem, which he credits with helping him approach unfamiliar subjects with confidence. It’s a skill that came in handy during his junior year, when he began to put out feelers for business opportunities. His friend and co-founder Dr. Michal Tsur, a serial entrepreneur and president of the video-cloud platform Kaltura, suggested he speak with the head of Reichman University’s Brain, Cognition, and Imaging Center, Prof. Amir Amedi, whom she knew from high-school. He was, she said, working on an interesting technology. A few conversations later, and “thanks to three years of interdisciplinary thinking at Shalem,” he adds, Shoval proposed leveraging the technology’s potential to advance the pharmaceutical industry.
“There’s already a growing field of digital therapeutics, which aims to replace drugs with things like VR sessions and augmented reality,” says Shoval. “I realized that Remepy’s innovation could work with drugs to improve their disease-fighting abilities. Essentially, the technology is a force multiplier for life-saving medications and the treatment of chronic disease.”
Shoval, Tsur, and Amedi eventually connected with three others—Rambam Hospital senior neurologist Dr. Shahar Shelly, Sheba Medical Center senior therapist Dr. Nira Saporta, and intellectual-property expert Prof. Tur Sinai—who understood the potential inherent in Shoval’s disruptive combination of traditional medicine and technology.
“It was like a light went off,” says Shoval, “Everyone recognized that we had the seed of a powerful, even disruptive idea.”
Now, as Remepy seeks to attain tier-1 data validation through clinical trials, and Shoval to grow his team of 16 experts to meet the burgeoning work demands, he explains that the experience of studying the classics has proven helpful in yet another way.
“More than anything, Shalem gave me the ability to delve into topics deeply,” he states. “We never stopped at a superficial understanding of any subject.” It’s an approach that served him well, he continues, as he learned to lead the process of market validation and dove headfirst into the worlds of personalized medicine, digital therapeutics, and neurology.
“Shalem is an education for life,” he concludes. “I think there’s no better way to apply that education than toward projects with the potential to save lives, too.”