Industry Innovators Interview: Metabiota
Metabiota’s mission is to make the world more resilient to epidemics. Following the impact of Covid-19, change is on the horizon as the need to cover risk becomes ever more prevalent. Nita Madhav discusses Metabiota’s work and ability to mitigate against the outbreaks. Epidemic risk factors will only continue to escalate across the globe, and Metabiota is working hard to inform the industry of the data and tools available that could help them mitigate against future epidemic and pandemic risks and their consequences.
Q. How would you describe Metabiota in three words?
A. Creative. Committed. Optimistic.
Q. Why Metabiota?
A. Our mission is to build a world more resilient to epidemics. We’ve been working on this challenge for over a decade, partnering with both industry and governments to protect global public health. Much of this work has taken place in disease hot spots around the world, where we’ve focused on supporting preparedness and building health system capacity. Over the last five years, we’ve worked intensively in the insurance space to build data and computational tools, develop risk analytics, and support efforts to build financial protection tools to mitigate the economic impact of outbreaks. Epidemic and pandemic risk is our sole organisational focus, and we believe that it can be mitigated through the right combination of prevention, preparedness, and resilience.
Q. What makes Metabiota different from other start-up companies?
A. There aren’t that many technology start-ups that have team members trapping bats, searching for the next pandemic virus. But that type of basic science is part of our history, and it still informs our current work focusing on modelling epidemic risk and supporting governments in high-risk areas to better prepare to deal with infectious disease threats.
Like a lot of start-ups, we leverage data and computational tools to do our work. But we use those tools in unusual ways, ranging from quantifying the probability of pandemics like COVID-19, and building insurance tools to protect against them.
Q. What would you identify as the gap in the market that Metabiota aims to fill?
A. Until recently, it was challenging to assemble a historical view of pandemic risk, or to model future risk with sufficient precision. We’ve worked to fill this gap by providing data and risk analytic tools to quantify, underwrite and price pandemic risk products, as well as tools to monitor and forecast risks around the world. Ultimately, one of our key aims is to facilitate new insurance product development by ensuring the right tools are in place.
Q. What were the main challenges on standing out and establishing yourself in a competitive market?
A. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest challenges was getting people to understand the full implications of pandemic risk: what a pandemic would really mean for societies and economies, and why modelling and building tools for economic resilience is so incredibly important. Now, we’re working hard to raise awareness about the data and tools that can be brought to bear, to understand and mitigate pandemic risk and its consequences.
Q. How is the wider industry responding to challenges in your area of the market, and how are you tackling these?
A. It’s probably fair to say that the industry is still forming its perspective. A lot of insurers have had significant losses from COVID-19. There is clearly demand, especially for Business Interruption insurance, but it will take time for carriers to build comfort writing and pricing the risk. We have been providing data and epidemiologic consulting to help support market development; not every epidemic becomes a pandemic, and not every pandemic is as severe and systemic as COVID-19. We think it’s critical for insurers to be grounded in the data and science, and so we are doing our best to provide those perspectives.
Q. How are existing customer buying habits forcing change?
A. Pre-COVID-19, customers were interested in learning about pandemic insurance, but there wasn’t clear market demand for this type of coverage for an emerging risk class. Now, the world has seen the impact that infectious disease can have on societies and economies and the demand is no longer in question. With the need to cover this risk, we see an industry that is in the midst of change.
Q. What’s unique about the culture at Metabiota?
A. Incredibly tenacious, deeply collaborative, and interdisciplinary. In our office, we have an epidemiologist sitting right next to an actuary, across from an anthropologist and a political scientist. As a team, we are committed to working together to solve problems that usually don’t have clear boundaries, let alone clear answers. And all of us are committed to finding new ways to make the world more resilient to precisely the kind of health catastrophe we see unfolding now, in COVID-19.
Q. Where do you see Metabiota this time next year?
A. Providing our best in-class risk tools to the industry that is out of crisis mode and looking to protect the insured against future pandemic risks.
Q. What advice would you give to anyone else looking to disrupt the industry?
A. Have patience, tenacity, and build a team that strongly believes in the mission.
Nita Madhav, MSPH is the Chief Executive Officer at Metabiota.