W2O Group has acquired Discern Health, an advisory firm focused on value-based payment models.

The acquisition adds about 30 staff to W2O along with offices in Washington D.C. and Baltimore. The deal also brings in more experts in value-based payment, performance measurement and access.

The deal is W2O’s sixth acquisition since it received a private equity investment from New Mountain Capital last May.

“This obviously is a very critical part of the mix in healthcare, not only from a communications perspective, but overall in the healthcare delivery and access landscape,” said W2O CEO Jim Weiss. “Nothing points to it more clearly than the tweets of the President from the last few days about drugs and drug pricing and it’s becoming a huge issue around vaccines and global access. All of this is critical in healthcare and it will be even more critical in the years coming as we fight the pandemic.”

Discern Health was founded in 2004 by Guy D’Andrea, managing partner of the firm. The leadership team will remain the same after the acquisition.

For Discern, being part of W2O adds scale and new capabilities like data and analytics to its suite of services, D’Andrea said. As value-based payment models become more mainstream, the ability to combine that expertise with data and patient engagement becomes more important.

“When we founded the company, value-based care was at the margins of the healthcare system and in the life sciences industry,” he said. “Ten years ago, there were only a couple people focused on these issues, but more and more this is becoming a strategic imperative for life sciences. They need an integrated approach to defining value for their products and building messaging to support that value proposition.”

Discern Health will sit within the “shared services” unit of W2O, Weiss said, because the firm’s services touch nearly every aspect of the development and marketing process. With the addition of Discern’s staff, W2O now has nearly 100 people dedicated to policy and government affairs, Weiss said.

“Because we work with companies from bench to bedside and often are there at that phase 1 formative phase, we should have this capability and that’s why it sits in the middle of everything,” Weiss said.

W2O and Discern have been working together on some clients for about a year. The two firms first began their partnership working for a mutual client, the National Pharmaceutical Council. They also worked together for a project in the oncology genomic testing area.

“We always follow the client, that’s what led us here,” Weiss said. “A lot of mutual clients brought us together and we thought we’d make a good match. We’ve done good work together in the past year and we’ve proven the combined model already works. Now this part of the business is increasingly important, making sure more people have more access to treatment.”