ZappRx Makes Specialty Prescriptions Easier to Process
Zoë Barry didn’t start ZappRx as an entrepreneur, but as a concerned sister—one forced to watch her brother battle with severe epilepsy and her parents with the healthcare industry’s outdated technology.
“No one wanted to be my cofounder,” Barry says. “It was me at my kitchen table trying to figure out what the hell entrepreneurship was. My roommate would buy the groceries, and I would cook the food and do the dishes to cover my portion of the bill.”
She saw an opportunity, however, to revolutionize how her brother’s specialty drug prescription was processed, and swiftly went from broke to the CEO of a company that’s raised $8.8 million in three years.
“We’re operating at warp speed,” says Barry, who, just last month, was named to Inc.’s list of 30 Under 30 Coolest Entrepreneurs. “It brings such a smile to my face.”
Yet it’s her Boston company that’s bringing a smile to the face of patients with rare, life-threatening disorders.
A specialty medication requires up to 50 pages’ worth of paperwork and sign-offs from physicians, insurers, and pharmacists. A typical prescription can take six to eight weeks to process, as well as up to $100,000 annually to fill. For the roughly 25,000 patients nationwide suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension, that wait could be lethal. According to Barry, the average PAH patient is hospitalized 39 times over the course of a year.
“There’s no solid technology that’s supporting the electronic subscribing or electronic coordination of care for these drugs,” Barry says. “[Physicians] have to play detective and track down all the paperwork and manually fill it out. It’s a huge administrative burden.”
ZappRx provides a platform that connects patients, physicians, and pharmacists. The startup maps an entire disease category and every drug prescribed to treat that disorder. Users can then log in and refill their specialty medications—ones pharmacies typically don’t carry due to high overhead costs.
“We collect data from stakeholders in the healthcare space,” Barry says, noting data is how the company started making money. “We’re working through revenue models with insurance companies.”
Partnerships are also helping the startup grow. Upon revealing its $5.6 million investment in early April, ZappRx announced a deal with Zafgen, a Boston biopharmaceutical company dedicated to treating Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare metabolic disorder that can, on one end of the spectrum, lead to obesity, but on the other, to patients eating themselves to death if not supervised. Zafgen’s new product will be treating the core issue of not feeling full.
“We will define a modern prescriptive for that drug when it launches,” says Barry. ZappRx can also “modernize the way drugs currently in the market are prescribed,” which is necessary given that “problems [physicians] had with technology in the 1980s are still prevalent in healthcare today.”
Helping support ZappRx’s mission are nearly 25 employees—five of whom used to work for Google’s Boston office after their original company, ITA Software, was acquired by the search giant for $700 million in cash.
“I want to rewrite the prescription flow…and how you rewrite the airline reservation system is not that different,” Barry says, referring to the strength of ZappRx’s former Google employees.
Another strength of the ZappRx team is that it’s 50 percent women—a largely unheard of ratio in the tech industry.
“As we grew, I made it clear I wanted to hire women,” Barry notes. “The investors I’m backed by are passionate about hiring women. They do not take the mindset that women are just assistants.”
Barry has singlehandedly busted that myth, transforming from a Wall Street analyst to a first-time entrepreneur whose team has outgrown its coworking space in WeWork South Station not once but twice.
“I couldn’t do it without the team I have,” Barry says. “[They are] people who want to improve the quality of life.”