UK healthtech startups to watch

Healthtech in the UK is a booming market with a combined turnover of £24 billion. Here are some of the top healthtech startups attracting the investment.

healthcare technology / medical data
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Healthtech remains a booming market that's set to grow rapidly as the effects of an aging population and cuts to the NHS make technology a crucial source of savings and new methods of treatment.

According to the Association of British HealthTech Industries, the UK healthtech sector is now the largest employer in the broader Life Sciences industry, employing 127,400 people in 3,860 companies, with a combined turnover of £24 billion.

Here, we take a look at some of the top UK-based healthtech startups attracting investment and explore how they’ve been supporting their customers through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Echo

Echo is a free prescription management app that allows you to order repeat prescriptions to your door. Just tell Echo what prescription you need and where your local GP is, and it partners with NHS Digital to plug into the various systems needed to verify these details. The startup was acquired by McKesson in 2019 for an undisclosed sum.

The prescription is then delivered to your door first class by Royal Mail for free. The app reminds you to reorder, when to check in with the GP and even when to take your medicine.

So how does it offer all of this for free? Co-founder Stephen Bourke said Echo essentially works like a "Deliveroo for prescriptions," in that it takes a cut of the gross profit a pharmacy makes from the NHS drug tariffs it receives to distribute medicine.

Echo has raised a £8.8 million in funding since it was founded in 2015 and was selected for the TechCity UK Upscale programme in January 2017. The company is currently working with over 9,500 GP surgeries across England and is a member of the NHS Innovation Accelerator, a partnership between the NHS and England's leading universities.

In August 2020, LloydsPharmacy’s parent company McKesson said it had seen a 300% revenue rise for Echo, compared to before the outbreak of COVID-19.

Babylon Health

Babylon Health's smartphone app, GP at Hand, allows patients to video call doctors on demand. Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock told The Telegraph that the app is "revolutionary” and he wants it to be available to all.

The app includes an AI-powered chatbot that allows users to ask medical questions 24/7 and a feature that can order prescriptions from the nearest pharmacy. It also doubles as a health monitoring app that can be synced with wearable devices.

Customers can pay £44.97 every three months for unlimited GP access or £149 for an annual subscription. One-off appointments are charged at £49 per consultation — specialist and therapist appointments cost extra.

The company raised $60 million (£47 million) in funding in 2017 from NNS holdings, Vostok New Ventures and returning investors Kinnevik AB. This followed a $25 million (£20 million) round the previous year, which included investment from DeepMind cofounders Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman.

In August 2019, Babylon Health announced it had closed a $550 million (£425 million) round of funding, leading to the company being valued at more than $2 billion (£1.5 billion). This is the largest-ever fundraise in Europe or the US for digital health delivery.

However, 2020 has seen Babylon Health plagued by a number of controversies. In May, the company started offering customers at-home antibody tests for a one-off price of £69. The test used kit developed by UK-based pharmaceutical company Abbott and required users to provide a finger-prick blood sample that would then be sent to a laboratory for testing. Abbott however, insisted its test “was developed for use by laboratory professionals using a venous blood sample that is taken by a healthcare provider. It is not a home test and it should not be conducted with a finger stick blood sample.” As a result, the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) advised customers to ignore the results of the Babylon tests and the company had to issue a refund to all those who had acquired the test.

In June 2020, the BBC reported a data breach related to Babylon Health’s GP app, where three patients were provided with access to recordings of other patients’ video consultations. The company claimed the breach was caused by a software error and patched within two hours. Following the breach, a Digital Health New investigation found technical information exposing weaknesses in Babylon Health's platform was freely available through a Firebase database mistakenly left open. The app was given a security score of 10/100, putting it in the “critical risk” category.

BenevolentAI

BenevolentAI is applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to the genomics space, with two business units: Benevolent Bio, which focuses on drug discovery, and BenevolentTech, which is more of a research institution looking at the application of AI to genomic data.

The startup's aim is to expedite the traditional drug research process by ingesting huge amounts of data and literature using proprietary algorithms and NVIDIA's DGX-1 deep learning supercomputer. It then builds tools to match the workflow of drug-discovery scientists so they can easily mine and interrogate the data, ideally reducing the time-to-market for important drugs.

BenevolentAI is one of the best-funded healthtech startups in the UK, bringing in a total of $229 million of investment over three rounds of funding. Despite a $115 million (£89 million) funding round in April 2019, the company found itself raising money at a level well below its $2bn (£1.6bn) valuation.

In September 2019, Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek took a majority stake in BenevolentAI, giving it a downgraded valuation of $1 billion (£800 million). The AI firm was previously valued at $2 billion ($1.5 billion), but has narrowly retained its unicorn status.

Earlier this year, BenevolentAI put forward one of four independent studies identifying a possible COVID-19 treatment. The company used its “knowledge graph," a database of all existing approved drugs, to find one that could be repurposed to treat the novel coronavirus.

Lantum

Lantum aims to solve a specific issue within the NHS involving availability of staff. The NHS spends billions on sourcing temporary doctors, known as locums, usually via agencies which take a hefty cut. Lantum acts as a marketplace connecting locums with GP practices, cutting out the agency middleman.

It has since expanded to become a wider platform for NHS workforce management, providing a suite of software-as-a-service tools like e-rostering, compliance and shift booking. It also provides tools for doctors such as diary management and expenses.

Launched in 2012, Lantum was the brainchild of founder and CEO Melissa Morris, who previously worked at McKinsey and briefly for the NHS directly. In 2017, Lantum acquired Leicester-based rLocums in 2016 and popular GP invoicing tool Locum Organiser in order to increase its product offering to users.

More than 2,000 healthcare providers and 200,000 clinicians are using Lantum to connect, with around five million patients estimated to have been treated by Lantum doctors. Valued at £12.6m, Lantum has raised funds over seven rounds, with its latest round occurring in March 2019.

DoctorLink

DoctorLink is s designed to improve the patient experience and free up GP time by providing a personalised medical advice and digital triage in an online tool designed for the NHS. Its most recent fundraising in February 2020 of £2.4m resulted in a pre-money valuation of £32.7m.

Patients access DoctorLink through their GP practice's website. They then answer a series of system assessment questions that a clinical algorithm analyses before responding with tailored medical advice for self-care when appropriate. Patients can then book a face-to-face appointment or phone consultation through DoctorLink.

The clinically certified system integrates with a practice's electronic health records, appointment booking and prescription management system, allowing doctors to prioritise urgent appointments.

The London startup was founded in 2016 and is now available to 10 million NHS patients across 1,350 surgeries. The platform aims to reduce surgery appointments by around 20% by digitising aspects of care and administration and matching clinical support to patient need.

By November 2020, the video and phone consultation service had seen a greater than 250% increase in its active user base in the preceeding nine months, and the number of GP clinics using the platform tripled. Compared to the same period in 2019, the number of completed unique online symptom assessments increased by more than 200%.

The healthtech platform’s growth was further boosted by an NHS decision in March to select the platform to provide both online triage and video consultations during COVID-19. Doctorlink was the only supplier chosen to provide both services.

Unmind

Unmind is a mental health platform that offers a variety of tools to help businesses improve the mental well-being of their employees.

The platform works with clinicians, authors, and academics to provide digital tools that focus on eight different categories, including mindfulness, sleep, fulfilment and focus. The interactive tools and audio exercises offered by Unmind range from mindfulness meditations to CBT metaphors, sleep melodies to storytelling, yoga, and healthy recipes, with each tool ranging from one to 30 minutes in length, making them ideal for quick support.

To help users better understand which areas of mental wellbeing to prioritise, the platform uses the "Unmind Index," an assessment tool designed by clinical psychologists to indicate a user’s level of wellbeing. The Index is divided into seven sections that represent core areas of wellbeing. Users are recommended to regularly complete the Index to track changes over time.

Unmind is working with several large organisations such as John Lewis, British Airways and the Cabinet Office. Its February 2020 fundraising of £7.7m backed by Felix Capital and Project A Ventures and has taken the company’s total fundraisings to £13.8m.

At the start of the UK’s lockdown in March, Unmind launched a series called Navigating COVID-19, to help users deal with the uncertainties from the coronavirus and tackle issues such as isolation, increased job demands and home work.

The programme encourages users to adopt a coping mindset and equips them with various evidence-based strategies to manage their mood and anxiety through the pandemic. Unmind reported that, on average, users completing the Series felt 52% better able to manage their mental health through the pandemic and 47% better prepared to cope with the impact.

Thriva

Launched in 2015, Thriva sends out a finger-prick blood testing kit that monitors baseline health and offers lifestyle advice to improve wellness. Thriva is based in Holborn and in its latest funding round in May 2020 raised £4m, taking its total fundraisings to £11.7m to date.

CEO Hamish Grierson realises the recent debacle of US startup Theranos over-promising what it could test for from a simple finger-prick test may have dented consumer trust in this area, but said Thriva does things differently. "The first thing is that Theranos are —and were — trying to develop proprietary testing hardware, so machinery that analyses blood testing, and we are not doing that,” he said.

"For [that] reason, Theranos encountered around accuracy and trust; we are using tried-and-tested and accepted lab capabilities that the NHS themselves use frequently.”

The baseline test tracks cholesterol, liver function, iron levels and vitamin D and costs £49 per test, with a recommendation to get tested every three months. The information is put out to a network of GPs for commentary and lifestyle advice that's sent to the user on an online dashboard within 48 hours of the test.

"Thriva is about empowering people to proactively manage their health and make better decisions as a consequence," said Grierson, who would like to expand the number of tests Thriva can run to include urine and DNA. "We are creating a platform for internal testing. It doesn't really matter what type of biomarker you want to test for, we will make it easy and affordable and that's the plan."

Thriva currently offers an at-home coronavirus antibody test kit to check for the presence of IgG antibodies to COVID-19 — which can be detected by taking a blood test at least 21 days after symptoms start. The kit costs £65, which the company says covers the cost of lab testing, operations and technical support, and postage.

Pando Health

Founded in 2016 by two UK-based doctors and a serial entrepreneur, Pando Health is a messaging app that allows healthcare professionals to communicate securely. The platform also includes a task management feature that allows users to create patient lists and tasks that can be shared with the team and updated as they develop.

Formerly known as Forward Health, the app is currently being used by more than 25,000 professionals in 200 NHS hospitals to help them to work more effectively. The app also functions as a wellness tool, and hospitals that use Pando Health have noticed an improvement in both workplace satisfaction and patient care.

The platform is fully encrypted, GDPR- and NHS-compliant and is free for all NHS staff to download and use. Pando Health announced its rebrand in January 2020, alongside the news that investment company Skip Capital had joined existing investors Stride.VC and Albion Capital in a $5 million raise.

Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic caused a surge in downloads, with the platform reporting a 700% increase in daily downloads in March 2020, compared to February, with more than 75,000 messages exchanged via the network every day. Pictures can be sent securely. By May 2020 there were 45,000 users.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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