Written by Jürgen Eckhardt, Head of Leaps by Bayer
What do you consider the most promising medical technology of the 21st century? Breakthroughs like CRISPR and related advances in synthetic biology are creating new possibilities to shift key paradigms in health. But another crucial development is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take it for granted: the immense amount of health data generated through medical research, smart devices and other digital sources.
Our understanding of the human body has expanded dramatically over the past 50 years. More than one million papers are published in biomedical journals every year; in 2020 alone, scientists published more than 100,000 papers about the COVID pandemic. And scientific research is just one source of information. In the past decade, smartphones and wearable devices have made it possible to collect sophisticated data about the human body beyond the confines of the clinic, expanding possibilities for remote medical monitoring.
Leveraging this torrent of data to transform patient health holds both immense promise and challenges. We’ve all seen futuristic projections where our smart cars and homes constantly monitor our bodies and feed into smarter systems to compute anomalies, thus predicting a heart attack well before symptoms appear. But to get there, we’ll need less siloed systems, massive processing power, data ownership frameworks that put patients in control, and far-reaching innovation at the intersection of tech and biology. At Leaps by Bayer, we have invested in several promising companies that are building the groundwork for predictive and preventative medicine. These efforts could help doctors expand beyond brain-sized RAM and transform patient data into actionable insight, empowering both as partners in care.
One company that’s envisioning this future of digital medicine is Ada Health. Ada has leveraged artificial intelligence and machine learning to build a digital platform that helps patients understand and navigate their symptoms. Patients enter their symptoms in Ada’s app, and an AI chat bot uses a constantly refined data repository of patient indications to present possible diagnoses and next steps for pursuing medical care. So far, the app has more than 10 million users worldwide, and Ada is starting to build partnerships with payors and health systems that allow patients to share their digital assessments with health care providers. I’m excited by Ada’s potential to augment traditional medical care, breaking down barriers to access while building and validating one of the largest and most secure healthcare data repositories that connects healthcare providers and medical researchers with a more robust patient experience.
The COVID pandemic accelerated our shift to digital health and telemedicine, and Huma, another Leaps investment, is pushing the frontiers of remote care by building on their platform of digital biomarkers. Early in the pandemic, Huma collaborated with the UK’s National Health Services to develop tools for doctors to monitor patients with mild to moderate COVID at home. Wearable devices allow doctors and patients to track symptoms and vital signs, and Huma’s platform sends notifications if patient conditions begin to deteriorate, alerting patients to go to a hospital for more extensive monitoring and care. This remote monitoring platform allows patients to recover in the comfort of their own homes and ensures that more sophisticated medical care is available for those who need it most. With outcomes like a 30% reduction in hospital readmissions and nearly doubling clinical capacity with its digital tools, Huma has demonstrated how their platform already contributes to preventative healthcare.
We are only beginning to see the potential of these platforms. Ada and Huma exemplify the spirit behind Leap 10, which aims to invest in disruptive technology transforming health with data. The volume of knowledge and insight into human health continues to grow exponentially, both in pathology and on a molecular level. The digital health data that enables doctors and patients to collaborate towards better health outcomes could potentially accelerate efforts that use AI and big data to accelerate drug discovery — this is the domain of leaders in the field, including portfolio company Recursion.
As big data expands into the world of health, one major challenge is to develop platforms that improve medical care while also protecting patient privacy. It’s crucial that digital health tools implement strong safeguards to protect patient data and are transparent about who has access and how it’s being used. Mutual trust among patients, doctors, and digital health providers in broader systems that ensure health for all as an unshakable commitment is essential for making the best use of these technologies to improve patient health.