We spoke with Tanja Dowe, ahead of the annual J.P. Morgan Health Care Conference 2022, about radical innovation in healthcare, including the potential of digital solutions to diagnose disease earlier, using digital therapeutics or preventive digital solutions more efficiently, and making use of technologies that result in accelerated drug discovery and development.
Why are you attending the virtual J.P. Morgan 2022?
The J.P. Morgan week has historically brought large flocks of investors, industry and companies raising funding rounds to San Francisco every January. This will be the second year in a row that the event will be organised virtually, due to COVID. Although we really miss meeting our colleagues in real life on the buzzing streets and meeting rooms of San Francisco, the conference itself is a great opportunity to start the new year with high energy, by listening to business leaders from around the world, sniffing out trends from industry presentations and through networking platforms, and finding companies that are fundraising in 2022.
What are likely to be the key topics at J.P. Morgan this year?
I’m sure that mRNA technologies, telehealth, ‘[email protected]’ and data will play a big role. A huge topic in the USA today is health equity – this will also be reflected in most of the discussions. A lot of people ask about the post-COVID times, what have we learned and how can we accelerate the healthcare transformation beyond the ultra-fast adoption of digital tools during COVID. Is there going to be a moment of lull or can we keep the pace?
In digital health specifically, the amount of capital available on the market, increasing valuations and round sizes, will also be a big topic. Are we in a bubble? Is this sustainable? Who will be the winners, next ‘unicorns’, acquirers and acquirees? A lot of companies are planning to announce the closing of their funding rounds during the conference week so I’m sure we will hear some news that creates some ‘oohs and ahhs’.
What are the three biggest things expected from healthcare innovation in 2022?
I’d like to think one of them relates to earlier diagnosis of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases through digital means and better data analysis. It’s about time we start anticipating and treating earlier, when we still have a chance to have a big impact on the disease trajectory and can make a difference.
Another one comes in the form of business model innovation – how do we integrate digital therapeutics and preventive digital health solutions efficiently into healthcare? We can have a huge impact on individuals’ state of health by giving them tools to measure, improve and monitor their own health, but who pays and how do we get these tools to the right people to help our overloaded healthcare systems? Maybe I’m dreaming thinking it will be solved in 2022 but let me put that wish out there to the universe.
The third big thing I believe we will see is that data aggregation, and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual clinical trials (VCT) start to pay off, with the pharmaceutical industry showing further proof points that these technologies can result in highly accelerated drug discovery and development.
Which symposiums and discussions are Debiopharm most interested in participating in during J.P. Morgan?
We will participate in the main event but also in all the side events where we can find investment opportunities. We love start-up pitches and partnering platforms.
What digital solutions for diagnosing disease earlier do you think are the most hotly anticipated?
There are two paths to earlier diagnosis. Firstly, with access to longitudinal health data combined with genetics data, we should be able to identify patterns in clinical history that inform us on disease risks and early signs. Secondly, lots of expectations are placed on wearable and digital behaviour data. We are collecting more and more data with increasingly sensitive sensors. That data is fabulous raw material for innovations in digital diagnostics. What will make earlier diagnosis impactful, is to place measurement tools in the hands of individuals together with information on treatment options and preventive measures.
What are digital therapeutics and how important are they to the healthcare investment sector?
Digital therapeutics are clinically validated digital tools that deliver an outcome to a patient alone or as a combination therapy with a drug. There’s a lot of excitement around digital therapeutics and investors are placing their bets on different companies. It’s a no-brainer that digital therapeutics have a huge effect on the patient level. We all want more patient-centric care that goes beyond just giving a patient a pill and sending them home. The only question is, when will we break through to bigger adoption by payers and caregivers.
A lot of digital therapeutics will integrate continuous monitoring, voice-tech and wearables. In 5–10 years we will have digital therapeutics or digital companions for every condition. We are an active investor in this field because digital therapeutics will also be used in combination with the pharmaceuticals developed by Debiopharm.
It will be of particular importance to have digital therapeutics fully integrated into personal health data but also to the caretakers’ dashboards and electronic health records (EHRs) in the future. Today, experienced capital is the most important need in this sector. The market is still shaping up. The payback day will come, but until then a lot of market education and work is needed.
Could you tell us a bit more about how you foresee data aggregation, AI and VCTs being used in pharma?
I hope to see a whole new way to develop drugs, starting from AI-enabled drug discovery, simulation and modelling of diseases and drug responses in large virtual populations, using real-world data for control arms, and a completely refreshed way of running clinical trials – not only by digitalising workflows but also by collecting a new type of data (e.g., from wearables). Continuous monitoring of data can tell us a lot about the quality of life of patients – something pharma has had less focus on in the past.
Why is J.P. Morgan important for members of the healthcare investment community?
Investors are always looking for like-minded syndicate partners, sharing investment opportunities and comparing notes on trends. This is a global business, and it is good to have one week in the year when investors focus on exchanging trends and perspectives. However, we really hope to return to live meetings next year – investing is a business based on trust between people and there’s nothing like getting to know each other face-to-face.
About the author
Tanja Dowe is the CEO of Debiopharm Innovation Fund, the strategic investment arm of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Debiopharm. A former entrepreneur and strategy and transaction consultant, she steers the fund to invest in start-ups with disruptive technologies that transform the pharmaceutical industry (see more on LinkedIn).
About Debiopharm’s strategic digital health fund
As Debiopharm’s strategic corporate fund, the Debiopharm Innovation Fund invests in digital health, smart data, and innovative tech start-ups. Find out more about seeking digital health start-up funding.
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