This is the first in a series of quarterly publications for the Global Health Council looking at drug development, healthcare providers such as hospitals and digital health, payments and patient wellness. This first article looks at the implications of the disease treatments coming out of advanced research and artificial intelligence and the broader shift to digitalisation in healthcare. The next issue will focus on the providers of healthcare.

The novel coronavirus first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 has shaken the world like no other pathogen this century. The spread of the virus, now called SARS-CoV-2, and the associated covid-19 illness affected the healthcare systems around the world and other aspects of daily life including education, entertainment, work and socialising.

Vaccine development, which typically involves a lengthy and intricate process, has accelerated in the past year, with different healthtech and biotech ecosystem builders attempting to produce an effective candidate to help deliver a world free from the disease. Two RNA vaccines in particular have been widely authorised by health regulators: the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines, with over 90% and 94% efficacy, respectively.

RNA vaccines introduce a messenger RNA (mRNA) sequence into the body for the cells to produce the antigens to spark an immune response – mRNA is a family of molecules that deliver genetic code from the DNA to the ribosome, telling it how to link amino acids. This is different from some traditional inoculations that would use a weakened or inactive version of the viruses. The RNA technology enables vaccines to be made more quickly from the pathogen’s genetic information.

Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, named tozinameran, was developed by Germany-based immuno-oncology therapy developer BioNTech in association with US-headquartered pharmaceutical firm Pfizer.

Spun out of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in 2008, BioNTech initially focused on personalised cancer treatments before it began working on novel mRNA technology in early 2020, in the wake of the disclosure of the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence. The company was backed by Pfizer and fellow pharma groups Eli Lilly and Sanofi before it went public on the Nasdaq Global Select Market in late 2019.

Moderna, on the other hand, had been concentrating on mRNA therapeutics since it was incubated by venture capital firm Flagship Ventures in 2010. Its jab against covid-19 is formally called mRNA-1273 and was developed with the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

It counted pharmaceutical conglomerates AstraZeneca, Merck & Co and Alexion among its shareholders before it raised roughly $604m in an initial public offering on the Nasdaq Global Select Market in late 2018, which was – and remains – the largest for a biotech company.

But while the big drugs companies are excited by mRNA to tackle viral diseases, they are also looking at how digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) can help them uncover ways to treat other common diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, which have historically often been bigger killers than viruses, such as flu, measles and chicken pox.

UK-based Exscientia recently raised $100m in its series C round to develop its AI drug discovery platform, CentaurAI, used by Bristol Myers Squibb, Sanofi, Bayer and Dainippon Sumitomo, among others, to tackle diseases. Mutual fund manager BlackRock joined the C round alongside corporate venturing units from Novo, Evotec and Bristol Myers Squibb.

Andrew Hopkins, CEO of Exscientia, said: “BlackRock’s investment is an important step in our vision that all drugs will be designed by AI.”

As trade paper Fierce Biotech said: “Exscientia differentiated itself from other AI-enabled drug discovery shops in its early days through algorithms that actually design novel molecules – rather than just screening for hits or assisting in the design process – and with its commitment to hiring experienced drug hunters to use its platform. Andy Bell, co-inventor of Pfizer’s Viagra, was an early big-name hire.”

It was the latest in a series of large rounds for AI drug discovery platforms in the past year.

In the same week, Genomics, another UK-based precision healthcare technology developer backed by drug manufacturer Vertex Pharmaceuticals, closed a $30m funding round.

Founded in 2014 out of University of Oxford, Genomics has developed a machine learning-powered genomic analytics platform that determines the risk of individuals for common diseases before they manifest.

Apart from delivering its population health management services and clinical decision support tools, the company also uses its insights to support the discovery and development of treatments.

US-based medical diagnostics technology developer Paige in January secured $100m in a series C round co-led by medical products group Johnson & Johnson’s investment arm, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC.

Leo Grady, Paige’s CEO, said: “Paige is building a transformational portfolio of computational pathology products to serve clinical needs and drive precision medicine. This investment reaffirms the vast potential of the Paige platform for clinical and biopharmaceutical drug development applications.

“These funds will enable us to build additional AI-based products within and outside of oncology, deliver these products to laboratories and clinicians globally and invest in our talent across engineering and commercial functions.”

In September, Germany-based pharmaceutical and agricultural product manufacturer Bayer invested $50m to lead a $239m series D round for US-based drug discovery technology provider Recursion.

Recursion is combining automation and machine-learning technology with what it claims is the largest biological image dataset in the world to discover drug treatments for a range of conditions, including cancer and genetic disorders such as neurofibromatosis or GM2 gangliosidosis.

Bayer’s investment was made in connection with a strategic partnership deal that will involve it using Recursion’s platform to discover treatments for fibrotic diseases affecting the lungs, kidney and heart.

Juergen Eckhardt, head of Leaps by Bayer, said: “With a pipeline of over 30 programmes ranging from early discovery to clinical stage, including four clinical stage assets, Recursion is defining and leading technology-enabled drug discovery and has the potential to help enable new curative treatments in a large spectrum of disease areas and discover therapeutic candidates for intractable diseases.”

In August, US-based drug discovery technology provider Atomwise completed a $123m series B round that included internet group Tencent and two undisclosed insurance firms joining co-lead investors, B Capital Group and the Saudi state-owned Sanabil Investments.

Abraham Heifets, Atomwise’s co-founder and chief executive, said: “Over the past three years, our platform AtomNet has tackled – and succeeded – in finding small molecule hits for more undruggable targets than any other AI drug discovery platform.

“With support from our new and existing investment partners, we will be able to leverage this to develop our own pipeline of small molecule drug programmes, further grow our portfolio of joint-venture investments and realise our vision to create better medicines that can improve the lives of billions of people.”

In May, US-based drug discovery technology developer Insitro received $143m in series B funding from investors including subsidiaries of internet and technology group Alphabet, pharmaceutical firm WuXi AppTec and life sciences real estate investment trust Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

Insitro, which has a strategic collaboration with biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences dating back to the previous year, has created a drug discovery platform that utilises uses learning and bioengineering technology to compile huge datasets that are used to locate promising drug targets for liver and central nervous system diseases.

Chen Zhou, an investment director for Samsung Catalyst Fund (SCF), South Korea-headquartered consumer electronics producer Samsung’s strategic investment vehicle, said two areas are of significant interest in 2021: “As the sequencing cost continues to decline, we believe healthcare will become increasingly data-driven which represents a massive opportunity for genomic care and precision medicine services. In the next few years, early cancer detection based on liquid biopsy will be cheap enough that everyone over the age of 50 will get sequenced as part of their annual check-up. We are very excited for our portfolio company Genome Medical, which is trying to democratise access to genomic care through its telemedicine platform.

“Another trend we are seeing is that automation and computational biology have become an increasingly important part of biopharma’s research and development workflow. In particular, massive parallelisation of lab experiments is being enabled by semiconductor technologies, which generates orders of magnitude more data to be analysed by AI than before. The large datasets not only unveil novel insights on the drug targets but also enable rapid screening and rapid iterations of experiments. This accelerated feedback loop is dramatically reducing the development timeline and increasing the likelihood of success. For example, Berkeley Lights is enabling biopharmas to study and manipulate thousands of cells in parallel at a single cell level through its highly automated system and its opto-nanofluidic chips. We believe we will continue to see more companies emerging in this space.”

Broader digitisation

The healthtech investing space also grew at a robust rate. Digital health companies raised $14.8bn in overall funding across 637 deals in 2020, covering traditional and corporate venture capital (CVC), as well as private equity transactions, according to Express Healthcare, citing data sourced from Mercom Capital Group.

The figure represents a 66% growth compared with the $8.9bn logged the year before across 615 deals. Digital health technology developers secured $21.6bn in 2020 from corporate investors in the form of equity, debt and public market financing.

GCV Analytics tracked a record figure in 2020 – $19.3bn was raised in corporate-backed rounds in healthcare companies, up from $12.7bn the year before.

Zoe Zhu, vice-president for China-listed insurance provider Ping An’s Hong Kong-based corporate venturing unit, Global Voyager Fund, said: “Digital health is the area we are most excited about. We believe that healthcare models around the world are pivoting toward vastly increased reliance on digital solutions.

“The ongoing global pandemic is also an accelerator of digital health applications, for example, telemedicine services for primary care, speciality telemedicine services, medical devices enabling patient self-examination at home for telemedicine, decentralised point-of-care or at-home diagnostics, artificial intelligence (AI) applications for imaging diagnostics, among others. We also see favourable top-down policies shifting incentives across various stakeholders in health towards a more digital and decentralised healthcare system.”

Three of the six digital health companies that floated in 2020 had corporate backing: telehealth technology provider Amwell (electronics and medical technology producer Philips, insurer Allianz and pharmaceutical firms Teva and Takeda), healthcare concierge developer Accolade (mass media group Comcast, medical supplies provider McKesson and health insurers Humana and Independence Health) and medical imaging system developer Nano-X Imaging (telecommunications firm SK Telecom, insurance group IA Financial, contract manufacturer Foxconn and photography and medical equipment maker Fujifilm). E-commerce group’s medical and healthcare-focused spinoff, JD Health, also went public.

Other notable corporate-backed healthtech exits from the past five years included Stemcentrx (financial services group Fidelity), medical diagnostics technology Grail (genomics technology producer Illumina, internet groups Alphabet, Tencent and Amazon, medical device maker Varian Medical Systems, care provider Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre and pharmaceutical firms Bristol Myers Squibb, Celgene, Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Merck & Co and WuXi AppTec), oncology therapy developer VelosBio (pharmaceutical firms Chiesi and Takeda) and oncology research technology provider Flatiron Health (Alphabet and clinical services firm LabCorp).

The pandemic’s impact will result in lasting transformation, and in some cases acceleration, of how healthcare is practised, accessed and priced, according to Dusty Lieb, a partner of strategic investment at Echo Health Ventures, the joint venture between health insurance providers Cambia Health Solutions and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the latter through its CVC subsidiary, Mosaic Health Solutions.

Lieb mentioned a few key areas where the Echo team sees opportunity in 2021 and beyond: “Value-based care enabled by virtual-based care: covid-19 has highlighted the benefits of value-based care from a provider perspective, and we expect continued traction not only in primary care but in other difficult-to-treat, high-cost conditions. This shift to value-based care will also encourage providers to adopt broader virtual delivery models to improve access for patients.

“Home care is better than hospital care: Accelerating the inevitable, covid-19 has activated the home as a key place of healthcare service delivery, even for higher acuity events and conditions. The healthcare system is innovating rapidly to address this new care delivery modality and create a new standard of care for appropriate treatment and even admissions in the home.

“Click-click is better than or equal to knock-knock: We believe that the rapid onset of virtual care has catalysed consumer comfort in this new, and more convenient, care delivery modality, and provider acceptance in the maintenance of clinical fidelity through virtual means. This will, without a doubt, be the new front door for how care is accessed. However, numerous complexities need to be navigated in ensuring that clicks are as valuable as knocks and that virtual care drives cost savings and improved outcomes and consumer experience.

“Mental health is equal to physical health: A tipping point has been reached in the realisation of the equality of mental health and physical health. Covid-19 has resulted in a surge in demand for behavioural services, with numerous innovators in various focus areas and care delivery models looking to fill the gap. Ultimately, improving access to behavioural healthcare, and meeting this surge in demand, as well as the further destigmatisation of behavioural healthcare in this country, will require both flexible and tailored delivery models. These will need to meet the patient where they are in their journey and on their terms, better coordinate behavioural healthcare with primary care, and integrate a care continuum that optimises the use of scarce clinical resources.

“Pharmacy does not equal waiting in line: Healthcare consumerism has reached the pharmacy aisle, with numerous innovators looking to own a wedge of the patient relationship, and seeing where, and how big, they can go from there. Still, others are looking at how best to improve the patient experience, empower a key healthcare workforce participant in this country (pharmacists), or drive improved adherence for speciality medications. What these companies all have in common is a focus on a key underutilised consumer touchpoint with numerous value creation and cost-saving opportunities.”

The importance of data

Rich Osborn, managing partner of Telus Ventures, the corporate venturing arm of the Canada-based telecommunications, health and security conglomerate, said: “As the largest Canadian health IT company, Telus has prioritised investing in the advancement of innovative technologies that not only improve the health and wellbeing of Canadians and our communities, but also those that solve some of our most challenging issues within the healthcare ecosystem itself.

“Our team at Telus Ventures is made up of the most active digital health investors in the world, where we are focused on creating better health outcomes by facilitating better collaboration, delivery and effectiveness in care provision. We are really excited about our current portfolio of healthcare investments that are doing just that. Some notable examples include Zebra Medical Vision, MindBeacon, Genxys, League and Bindle.

“Zebra Medical Vision is an AI-driven, deep-learning medical imaging analytics company offering disease progression tracking;

“MindBeacon: We led the seed round in MindBeacon, which subsequently went public in December 2020. The company offers the leading Canadian digital mental health platform focused on mild to severe challenges. This has been particularly important as we address the ripple-effect impacts of covid-19;

“Genxys is a precision prescribing software company that improves medication safety, increases drug effectiveness, and reduces healthcare costs;

“League is a leading digital employee health benefits platform. It has turned benefits into a competitive advantage for employers while managing costs and empowering employees to take control of their health;

“Bindle is a software platform that helps communities and economies reopen by allowing people to easily display their covid-19 health certificates whenever they go into a shared space while keeping their personal health information private.

“These companies not only directly address immediate covid-19-related issues but will continue to deliver meaningful and measurable social outcomes well beyond the current pandemic.”

Kazuhiko Chuman, head of KDDI Open Innovation Fund and KDDI Mugen Labo, corporate venturing subsidiaries of Japan-headquartered telecoms firm KDDI, said the funds would focus on technology that enables users to perform self-examinations using smartphones and related devices. “By using this technology, users will be able to identify signs of illness on their own. We believe that such services are necessary for the future of society.”

Sharpened investment focus

Samsung’s Zhou said: “Investment strategy needs to evolve quickly with the market. covid-19 showed us how quickly the market can change. Because of covid-19, telemedicine is accelerated by at least five years, infectious disease testing and vaccines became multibillion-dollar markets and policies around reimbursements and regulatory approval also quickly changed. At SCF, we are on a constant lookout for companies who can adapt to the new environment.”

Kurt Sheline, a principal on the strategic investment team at Echo Health Ventures, added: “In 2021, Echo Health Ventures launched the Echo Innovation Alliance, a powerful strategic investing engine that extends Echo’s proven investment model to help broaden our strategic impact.

“The Alliance brings together Echo and USAble Corporation, the investing arm of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, to invest in transformative companies and drive broader market impact. The depth of the Alliance offers investment sourcing and industry relationships across the US while bringing together leading health solutions companies with demonstrated experience providing products and services to millions of Americans.

“The Alliance members offer Echo a unique perspective into the underpinnings of the US healthcare system. Our operating model and team structure afford us the opportunity to sharpen our investment strategy by collaborating both within and across these different organisations to refine our focus.”

Ping An Global Voyager Fund’s Zhu said: “From day one since the fund’s inception we have focused on digital health as the core underlying health investment strategy. We believe the healthcare sector is still at the beginning of digitalisation and such a trend has years to come.

“In our view, digital health encompasses three key aspects which are also our focus areas: the delivery of medical services at a distance, by making use of telemedicine and other technologies to reduce the traditional requirement of fixed infrastructure in healthcare; better leveraging scarce medical professionals by utilising sophisticated diagnostic services via AI and machine learning techniques; and aggregating and organising medical data in the cloud in a way that is both secure and easy for appropriate professionals to access.”

Telus Ventures’ Osborn added: “As one of Canada’s longest-standing corporate venture funds, Telus Ventures’ significant differentiator is that we fundamentally understand the healthcare sector, along with its many challenges and possibilities. Through our broad-reaching experience in this space, we are fortunate to leverage the Telus Health team, including hundreds of clinicians, who provide us with excellent ‘on the ground’ signals and industry intel, as well as data insights and voice of patient and provider to help identify new and emerging opportunities.

“Additionally, as one of Canada’s longest-standing CVCs, we are fortunate to work and often co-invest with a wide variety of mission-aligned corporate partners who share our desire to affect positive social change through our investing strategy. Finally, our team. We continue to build a leading team, with two industry ‘GCV Rising Stars’, Jay Crone and Jonathan Wolkin, named in 2021. We have increased our headcount by adding five experienced team members to the Telus Ventures team late in 2020, including venture partners based in Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. These individuals also bring expansive reach, allowing us to grow our investment portfolio internationally and partner with more entrepreneurs globally. This year alone we led investments in Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, Israel and Sweden.”

KDDI Open Innovation Fund’s healthcare-oriented portfolio includes chat-based medical consultation service Embrace, dermatology drug and cosmetics maker NanoEgg and healthy lifestyle assistance app operator Prevent. Regarding the healthtech investing strategies, Chuman said: “We believe that we should focus on areas where we can leverage the strengths of our own business. In particular, we will focus on areas where there are synergies with our large user base.”

Healthtech boom and underfunded areas

Ping An’s Zhu said all the healthcare subsectors – including medical devices, insurance and biotech and life sciences – are getting a lot of interest.

Over the past decade, $45bn has been invested across digital health, healthcare IT and tech-enabled services and the competition between these startups to demonstrate impact and generate revenue have only intensified, according to Echo’s Lieb.

“The covid-19 pandemic and resulting healthcare and human crises have forced a renewed focus on the patient and provider experience. In 2020, we looked at some sectors that were getting interest amidst the disruption caused by the pandemic, and remain underfunded.

Covid-19 creating a critical moment for patient-centred digital health: Amid uncertainty with the covid-19 pandemic, the focus on patients is more important than ever, as patients seek empathetic, convenient care.

Telemedicine in the age of covid-19: Rapid expansion of new models and functionality: One of Echo’s core investment themes has been supporting new models of care delivery that enhance convenience and quality for consumers. Telemedicine plays a key role in enabling new care modalities, and we are seeing many companies expanding the functionality of traditional telemedicine care platforms.

‘Femtech’ is booming but the disparity in women’s health continues: Women’s health has become one of the fastest-growing sectors within digital health and we see an opportunity for development and inclusive care starting at the community level. But some women have yet to benefit from the innovative, consumer-friendly solutions that we see in this new and exciting world. Particularly, women in rural or inner-city areas of the country. In these cases, people lack even basic access to healthcare, let alone accessible services that are personalised, tech-enabled and ‘delightful’. The historical and ongoing lack of attention in these geographies will require intentional investment of both time and resources to address disparity and outcomes-related issues. We see substantial opportunity for development in this space, and we are beginning to see new delivery models focused on providing quality, outcomes-measured and inclusive care that starts at the community level.

Innovation and opportunities for investors to address social drivers of health: We see an opportunity for companies to focus on the social drivers of health amid covid-19 to improve health outcomes. Through these new developments, there will continue to be opportunities to drive innovation and bridge fundamental health care disparities.”

Samsung’s Zhou agreed and said: “Telemedicine and virtual care is getting a lot of attention, especially in chronic diseases management and mental health. [Health management technology developer] Livongo and [virtual care provider] Teladoc’s success paved the way for many startups who aspire to meet unmet needs in the market.”

She added non-invasive glucose monitoring is an underfunded area. “It is a huge market impacting hundreds of millions of diabetes patients. It is the holy grail and a very difficult problem to solve. Investors are a little discouraged by the poor track record in this space. However, with better sensors and better algorithm, we believe the problem will be solved and we see a future where patients do not have to prick their fingers to get an accurate glucose reading.”

Telus’s Osborn also said virtual care and the overall care delivery transformation have seen rapid adoption as a result of covid-19. “Even before the pandemic, we have had our eye on this space, as evidenced by our early investment and Telus Health’s eventual acquisition of the Medisys Health Group – a leading provider of preventive healthcare and wellness services for workplaces across Canada. We are going to continue tracking this space and have our eyes on the practitioner and patient experience related to the delivery of these services.

“In terms of other sub-sectors that we are tracking, digital pharmacy and solutions that support health ecosystem integration are on our radar. We have more than 3,500 colleagues at Telus Health working on the seamless integration and digitalisation of Canada’s health IT ecosystem, and we are excited to continue to support them on this mission. Ultimately, we believe that by building a collaborative primary healthcare ecosystem that places the patient at the centre of care, we can deliver better health outcomes for our fellow Canadians for less money spent.”

KDDI’s Chuman added: “Remote medical examination is one of the eye-tracking subsectors since the government has partially permitted it since last April to deal with the pandemic expansion.

“Not only are the startups providing the solution for doctors and hospitals getting funded, but so are the related businesses such as pharmacy and insurance companies.”

Challenges in the healthcare VC ecosystem

Regarding the topics that still need to be addressed in healthtech investing, Samsung’s Zhou said: “Technology is transforming medicine into a data-driven science. And the culture gap between the traditional healthcare world and the technology world is quite big. Successful healthcare startups will have to have both the tech and healthcare DNA. A big pain point in the industry to find the right talent that can understand both worlds.”

Echo’s Sheline added that as a group, corporate investors have a spotty history and bring considerable baggage, including a reputation for being slow. “We are burdened by the reputation that we are a corporate development tool – leveraging buying power and an investment toolbox to make cheaper acquisitions – or simply a complement to the corporate procurement process, and that entrepreneurs run unnecessary risks by engaging with us.

“A different, long-term approach to corporate healthcare investment is essential to shaping the future of the industry. We must rethink how we structure ourselves, our objectives, our incentives and our commitments to be better strategic partners to our portfolio companies. Ultimately, we need to position ourselves to deliver on the promise of being truly strategic – not just corporate – investors, to invest in and build solutions that can scale and successfully transform the healthcare system.”

Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Novo, Merck & Co are among the most active corporate investors in the space, as are Pfizer, GSK, Illumina, Celgene, Merck Group and WuXi AppTec.

There is tremendous opportunity in the digital healthcare space, said Telus Ventures’ Osborn, and his team is passionate about investing in health-focused entrepreneurs as they bring high energy to their businesses and have a strong social and value-driven approach.

“But that does not mean there are not challenges that come along with investing in the space. Healthtech ventures are often faced with longer, more complex sales cycles and hurdles when navigating regulation,” he noted.

“From patients, doctors and IT decision-makers to regulators and policy-makers, they also have multiple stakeholder groups to educate in an effort to drive behaviour change. This, along with general economic uncertainty resulting from the pandemic, can make it difficult for both investors and investees.

“At Telus Ventures, we are lucky to have access to resources and a strong network to help navigate these challenges and bring in new expert perspectives. Our team members regularly act as board members and board observers, lending leadership and experience to guide portfolio company growth and success. We provide access to Telus’s technologies, broadband networks, customers and partners to promote our portfolio companies’ solutions across our ecosystem to unlock new business opportunities.”

Ping An’s Zhu concurred that there is a very long cycle for an innovative healthcare product to go through from concept proof to regulatory proof, productisation and commercialisation because of the complex system and various stakeholders involved – including physicians, hospitals, payers and patients.

She added: “Healthcare regulators and professionals tend to be conservative and slow to technological adoption which makes go-to-market non-trivial even for a regulatory approved product. The ongoing pandemic restricts travelling and definitely makes networking, deal sourcing and due diligence more challenging than before.”

Regarding Japan’s particular care structure, KDDI’s Chuman said: “One of the characteristics of the Japanese healthcare market is the universal health insurance system – this allows the citizens to meet doctors very easily at an inexpensive cost.

“That might hinder Japanese healthcare startups from engaging consumers directly with their products and solutions.”

Moving ahead

Concerning the most exciting developments across the healthcare sector, Samsung’s Zhou said: “Advancement of technology is driving down the cost of DNA sequencing, DNA synthesis and gene-editing rapidly. Genomics is the driving force behind precision medicine, and the convergence of sequencing, AI, and gene-editing has the potential to cure diseases including cancer. Almost two decades after the first human genome is sequenced, personalised medicine is finally ready for prime time as the technologies needed to make it happen have matured. Personalised medicine will be the largest investment opportunity in healthcare in the next few decades.”

Opportunity abounds in US healthcare system, according to Lieb. “Covid-19 has compressed a decade-plus of shifting perceptions and actions into a 12-month period, and we have only begun to see the lasting effects.

“Innovators are unpacking and reimagining every touchpoint that a patient or member has with the healthcare system, and we are excited about the entrepreneurs and executives who are focused on using innovation to lower costs and improve outcomes. But with opportunity comes responsibility: while technology will be a critical piece of the new foundation of healthcare delivery, it will not be a panacea for the triple aim.

“High-quality healthcare is also deeply empathetic, and the marginal cost of empathy has a positive – and meaningful – sum. Companies and opportunities must not only recognise the power of technology to drive an improved member experience, improved outcomes and lower costs, but also recognise that it has limits and guardrails.

“Within this context, there are several developments we are excited to pursue. First, the consumer and provider acceptance of virtual care delivery. Second, the continued technological developments enabling the practice of precision medicine at scale. And third, the monumental shift towards value-based care that is beginning to accelerate in primary care, but also seeing traction in other key high-cost, poorly-managed diseases and specialities.”

KDDI’s Chuman agreed and added: “Remote medical examination will collect patient’s personal data than ever. Those data will allow companies to provide personalised healthcare services such as customised drugs.

“Of course there are huge issues concerning privacy, but the easing of regulations is indeed making the Japanese healthcare market very exciting.”

Ping An’s Zhu explained that in telemedicine, many individuals in emerging markets use crowded hospitals to seek advice on ailments of minor severity, locking up hospital capacity that could be better used to serve patients with severe issues. “Increasingly, high-quality internet connectivity and ubiquitous smartphone use make it possible to address this problem by moving many diagnostic functions to a remote model.”

In AI applications in diagnostics, the world lacks an adequate number of trained medical professionals to diagnose ailments and deliver healthcare, she added. “This problem is most acute in emerging markets, particularly for specialised disciplines like radiology. Advances in AI and machine learning make it possible to automate significant parts of the diagnostic function, by applying algorithms trained on very large data sets to X-rays, CT scans and MRIs. Reducing the time a human being needs to spend analysing a scan to diagnose a condition dramatically increases the productivity of medical professionals, delivering cost savings across a healthcare ecosystem.

“With respect to applications of data for personalised healthcare delivery, the advent of ubiquitous high-speed wireless internet, low-cost cloud data storage and an explosion in the number of connected sensors have enabled the aggregation of significantly more personal health data than was previously possible. Appropriately stored, this data can be utilised on a personal level to provide patients with a vastly more personalised form of medical treatment for both acute and chronic conditions. On a population-wide level, this data can be aggregated to deliver meaningful insights in respect of public health.”

Telus Ventures’ Osborn concluded: “We believe the future of health is personalised, proactive and increasingly powered by foundational technologies such as AI and 5G. We are extremely well-positioned as a telco to harness and advance the intersection of these trends as innovation expands from markets around the world. Closer to home, we have been excited to watch as Canada’s entire healthtech sector has gained more profile over time – particularly virtual care. The pandemic has fuelled an unbelievable number of new and exciting ventures, and there is an increasing number of companies graduating from startups to anchors. With this, we will see greater competition and a growing talent pool which will lead to new global investors and capital needed to further innovation. We cannot wait to be there to help.”

Edison Fu

Edison Fu is a reporter and Asia liaison at Global Corporate Venturing.