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Cortica Plotting Expansion Plans for 2023

HEALTHCARE: Provider Looks to Grow to 25 Autism Centers

Cortica, Inc. – the San Diego-based, nationwide provider of a pioneering approach to treating autism – is celebrating this year’s Autism Awareness Month by preparing for a year of growth.

Neil Hattangadi, M.D.
Co-founder & CEO
Cortica, Inc.

“April is a very big month for us in a number of ways to really advance the field,” said Cortica CEO Neil Hattangadi, M.D.

In addition to participating in autism awareness events across the country, including the San Diego Race for Autism, Cortica will be participating in the Autism Investors Summit in West Hollywood; finalizing acquisitions that will expand Cortica into an Arizona location and another in the Northeast; ramping up clinical trials of new autism treatments from six to nine in the San Diego region; and preparing the final details on a large Series D fundraise expected to be announced soon.

“We’re looking to use this capital to really change the status quo of how autism is treated,” Hattangadi said, adding that the Series D will be “roughly in that same range” of its $100 million fundraising to date, which includes a mix of debt, investments from parent and advocacy groups like the Autism Impact Fund, and investments from growth equity and venture capital, including a $60 million Series C in 2021.

Cortica is looking to use the Series D to “catapult” the company’s model to a “national standard of care for autism,” Hattangadi said, adding that Cortica expects to grow from 16 centers to 25 by the end of the year.

Whole Child’ Approach

Before it grew into a national provider for autism care with 16 centers in six states, Cortica started as single clinic in Del Mar opened and operated by Suzanne Goh, M.D., a pediatric neurologist who now serves as Cortica chief medical officer.

Suzanne Goh, M.D.
Co-founder & Chief Medical Officer
Cortica, Inc.

Goh said she founded her clinic with the idea to grow it into an “integrated, whole child autism care center” that would bring together the various treatments of the disease under one roof.

In 2017, Goh brought in Hattangadi – her husband whom she met when the two Rhodes Scholars were attending Harvard Medical School – to help take the model she developed and go national.

“What Suzanne had done when starting her clinic back in 2013 was bringing all these services under one roof to essentially streamline the experience for these families,” Hattangadi said.

The problem that Cortica was solving for families with autistic children was the “very fragmented journey” they experience in treating the disease, Hattangadi said. That journey often begins with “a diagnostic odyssey” around where to go to get diagnosed – often at academic medical centers that have long wait lists. Once diagnosed, patients’ families then find themselves “ping-ponging” between several kinds of providers – physicians in psychology, neurology, genetics, gastroenterology and more. Next comes the referrals to out-patient services like behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, school support and family counseling.

“We know there’s a tremendous amount of stress that can come from managing all the different components of autism care,” Goh said.

Successful Approach

Cortica’s integrated model of care begins with an initial meeting with a medical practitioner via telehealth visit.

“Within 30 days, families can get an online visit with one of our nurse practitioners, get the appropriate intake evaluation and referrals to services,” Goh said, adding that wait time for services are long for neurodevelopment issues like autism, up to six months or longer and therapies can sometimes be an additional six months. “So we’re really trying to cut down that time.”

Past the initial visit, Cortica’s comprehensive care program includes first a medical component with a pediatrician or pediatric neurologist that understands the set of medical conditions that cooccur with autism – seizures, genetic syndromes, sleep disorders, GI disorders, etc.

As an example of the importance of the medical component, Goh pointed to a 2-year-old boy that came to Cortica after being previously diagnosed for autism and was already in behavioral therapy but had never had medical evaluations for metabolic or genetic conditions known to lead to autism. Cortica’s medical evaluation found he had epilepsy and seizures at night, which is common in autism.

“When we appropriately treated the seizures with medication and they stopped, his development really improved and he was able to participate in behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and really start to show progress,” Goh said. “He then went on and was mainstreamed by the time he was in the first grade. Now he doesn’t require any services anymore.”

The success of Cortica’s integrated, whole child model of treatment is backed up by data published in journals, Goh said, that shows it to be “superior” to current standard of care.

Addressing ‘Rapidly Rising’ Autism Rates

Cortica’s superior care model comes as rates for autism are on the rise.

“The prevalence of autism has been rapidly rising over the past 50 years,” Hattangadi said, adding that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest statistic, one in 36 children are now affected with the condition, up from 1 in 10,000 in 1970. “That’s really a national healthcare crisis for the country.”

In San Diego County alone, there are an estimated 30,000 children with autism, Goh said. “We have treated over 5,000 children in San Diego County since our inception.”

To reach as many children as possible, Cortica took a dual approach to getting their services covered by payers. “So what we’ve done is figure out how to operate in two different worlds,” Hattangadi said.

One world is the fee-for-service model utilizing separate billing codes for all the different services and is fully covered by insurance, except for any copay deductibles that accompany each specific health plan. The other is a value-based pay model, where Cortica partners with health plans to deliver access to their members, and is then paid based on patient outcomes in a way that saves plans money in the long run.

“As important as it was to engineer the right clinical model – which is a whole child, whole family model that’s different from the typical fragmented treatment landscape – it was equally important to figure out how to make this accessible through health insurance,” Hattangadi said, adding that Cortica’s expansion is in part driven by health plans and clinics around the country who are interested in offering the whole model approach in their region.

Cortica, Inc.

Founded: 2017
CEO: Neil Hattangadi, M.D.
Headquarters: San Diego
Business: Integrated autism treatment centers
Employees: 1,500
Website: corticacare.com
Notable: Cortica was founded by husband-and-wife team Drs. Suzanne Goh, M.D. and Neil Hattangadi, M.D. – both Rhodes Scholars who met at Harvard Medical School.

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