StartmeupHK Festival 2019 - Day 1 Highlights

Healthtech O2O Covers Healthcare Systems, Insurance and Jaw-Dropping New Tech

One million patient registrations in HK; HK$78 billion invested; US$1 trillion wasted in the US; medical alerts alter 95,000 decisions; human hearts in a jar

Developing the healthtech sector is a priority for the Hong Kong government, Dr. CHUI Tak-yi, JP, Under Secretary for Food and Health, Government of the Hong Kong SAR, said Monday in an opening keynote at the Healthtech O2O summit on day 1 of the StartmeupHK Festival 2019, organised by Invest Hong Kong (InvestHK).

Dr. Chui said the government will move forward with a large-scale genomic sequencing project to enhance the clinical application of genomic medicine and innovative scientific research in Hong Kong. “The Hong Kong Genome Project aims to sequence 50,000 genomes related to 20,000 cases,” he said. “The Hong Kong government will set up a new entity, Hong Kong Genomic Institute, to spearhead the project. The biotech sector will definitely be a major partner in this initiative.”

Besides genomics, he said: “We fully recognise the possibilities with healthcare big data research and its important role in shaping our healthcare development, particularly for providing useful information about business trends and risk factors, as well as efficiency of treatment methods and cost effectiveness of health initiatives.”

Commenting on the development of IT infrastructure, Dr. Chui said: “We launched the electronic health record system in 2016 to enhance the quality and efficiency of healthcare. The electronic healthcare system allows for the sharing for patient data between healthcare providers in the public and private sectors. The information shared will form patients’ lifelong health records. In a couple of months, we are expecting the one millionth patient registration, a milestone for us.”

Dr. Chui’s keynote was sandwiched between an introduction to the day by Juwan Lee, Chairman & Founder, NexChange, which hosted Healthtech O2O. Mr. Lee pointed out that Hong Kong enjoys the highest life expectancy in the world – and why. The city has 11 private hospitals and 42 public ones operating in a health service that’s rated as one of the world’s finest – something he said would grow with greater access to the Greater Bay Area.

Hong Kong government invested HK$78 billion innovation and technology in past 12 months

In his keynote, Stephen Phillips, Director-General at Invest Hong Kong, noted how healthtech is something that touches us all and emphasised how the Hong Kong government has prioritised the sector. During the past year, the government has provided the sector with HK$78 billion (US$10 billion) in financial support, through a variety of investments, incentives and tax breaks.

Mr. Phillips highlighted the opportunities for Hong Kong, even around such issues as its ageing population, and how the city’s startup scene is very vibrant. He said the number of startups in Hong Kong grew by 18% in 2018, with jobs in the sector up 51% on the year, citing a recent InvestHK survey.

“R&D and talent are really important,” he said, adding that a number of the world’s leading universities, including Harvard, Stanford and the University of London, have set up programmes in Hong Kong.

“Expect healthtech and biotech companies to grow in Hong Kong,” he said. Besides having access to capital – a feature of Hong Kong – the new HKEX rules benefit biotech and healthtech companies in particular. One thing is certain, he added: “Hong Kong is a life-long commitment for companies moving here.”

 Bayer talks digital therapeutics

Later in the morning, Celina Chew, President, Bayer Greater China, spoke about digital therapeutics and what Bayer is doing in this space. She said that Bayer is going “beyond the pill – from molecules to molecules-plus-data.”

She highlighted Bayer’s Power Plus app to measure blood sugar levels, feed data to doctors and provide education.

Bayer is working with startups through its G4A programme. “It’s David and Goliath in warm embrace,” said Ms. Chew. She added that digital therapeutics is a subset of digital health, but a key challenge for it is to be able to distinguish medical outcomes attributable to it, along with lifestyle and actual claims validation.

Her colleague, Eugene Borukhovich, Global Head of Digital Health (G4A) at Bayer, dug down into the details on how Bayer selects those startups to receive funding and operate pilot programmes. He said he sees digital therapeutics as the future of pharma and 2019 will be its breakthrough year.

 HKEX rule change boosts listings

During the past year, Hong Kong has taken multiple steps to support startups. For those companies further down the development and funding road, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange introduced new rules in April to make it easier for biotech and healthtech companies looking to list.

 Michael Chan, Senior Vice President, Marketing Development Division at Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, talked about developments since April 2018 and how the rule changes helped HKEX be the no.1 exchange in the world for the sixth time in ten years. He said that without the rule change, the exchange would have been third or fourth.

“The streamlined listing process makes it more attractive to new economy companies,” said Mr. Chan, adding that the exchange has had 12 biotech company IPO applications, since April 2018. Five of those have listed. He said the average market capitalisation is around HK$1.5 billion or US$200 million.

He said there’s a strong pipeline for the year ahead. HKEX welcomes companies from all countries and jurisdictions. Predictably, most companies come from mainland China, but there’s a lot of interest from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Europe, and also Israel.

 Policy clarity needed from governments

Besides the business and startups aspects of healthcare, hospitals and public healthcare was an overarching theme throughout the day. In a panel session on new technology in hospitals and clinics – integrating the new with the old – Jude Uzonwanne, Principal at IQVIA, noted that there’s “a lot of innovation, but very few smart hospitals.”

He added that “policy clarity is needed – clear thinking on hospital transformation is critical.” The rationale is to manage costs, address the shortage of doctors and healthcare staff, and provide better patient care. People “can get seduced by new technology, but when it’s implemented it doesn’t necessarily get used and taken up,” he said. “That means it’s a waste.”

He contrasted the hospitals in Singapore, where it’s possible to exchange patient records – the private will soon join this process – with the US, where it isn’t possible. “Patient data integration and exchange is vital,” he said.

The inefficiencies of the US healthcare system were spotlighted by Pradeep Goel, CEO of Solve.Care, a company working with Dignity Health Systems, part of the Arizona Care Network – one of the top five disease management systems in the U.S. He said that healthcare costs in the U.S. in 2016 reached US$3.7 trillion and that the new numbers when released will show the costs now topping US$4 trillion. “About US$1 trillion is wasted,” he said.

His company provides personalised healthcare through its Care.Wallet platform, which provides transferable health data between insurers and providers. At present, it helps to manage diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. “A heart attack costs between US$100,000 and a US$1 million per patient,” he said, to emphasise the benefits of preventative care.

While government strategy and clarity in policy are important, provision of the right type of health insurance in a way that’s easily accessible also has an essential part to play. On a panel discussion about insurtech and healthtech, Yannick Even, Head of InsurTech Solutions Asia at Swiss Re, noted that Asia’s healthcare protection gap is worth about US$1.8 trillion. The protection gap is the financial stress caused by unforeseen, direct out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. In Hong Kong it’s estimated to be about US$23 billion.

 Mark Wales, CEO & Co-founder of Galileo Platforms, explained how Galileo is helping to address this issue using blockchain technology.

 95,000 medical decisions revised thanks to Hong Kong Hospital Authority alerts

The day wrapped up with two insightful and intriguing keynotes. Dr. Ngai-tseung Cheung, Chief Medical Informatics Officer at the Hospital Authority in Hong Kong, talked about the never-ending project of upgrading Hong Kong’s healthcare system – moving from paper records to electronic patient records.

Contrasting with the “move fast and break things” motto of a large tech company, he said “we move slow and don’t kill people.” According to Bloomberg, Hong Kong has the world’s most efficient healthcare system, he said.

Hong Kong’s aging population is a big issue and a big driver for innovation. “Old people consume six times more healthcare per head,” he said. “We have massive healthcare needs and fewer young people to provide it. Business as usual isn’t going to cut it.”

Dr. Cheung said the Hospital Authority has a long-term strategy in place to deliver next-generation clinical management, enhanced patient experience and digital management. “We focus on technology that will deliver service impact,” he said. He added that a new form of governance was needed for innovation, because the normal system would not work – too slow. The process in place to review ideas and concepts and take the best ones through to funding and piloting may seem complicated, he said, but it’s much easier than what went before.

The Hospital Authority’s first patient app came out in 2011. By 2018 it had 15 apps in operation – many intended as temporary, but not replaced.

Dr. Cheung said they are now focusing on one single patient app. “HA Go is the name of the new app,” he said. “It has not yet been released.” He said it will trial in the second quarter and be released in the fourth quarter of 2019. It will handle appointment, payments, drug and rehab, along with other features as they get added.

“We’re pushing into an era of data-driven care,” he said, adding that the Hospital Authority provides decision support in medications, such as drug combinations, for allergies and other conditions, and timeframes for drug usage. In 2017, he said, doctors changed their orders on 95,000 occasions based on computerised alerts. The concurrent safety checking – decision support at scale – and reviewing decisions, as well as providing check-lists for what might have been overlooked, create major savings and better healthcare.

Novoheart’s human heart in a jar

Professor Ronald Li, CEO of Novoheart, gave the final keynote about his company’s development of a human heart in a jar. Toronto-listed Novoheart (TSXV:NVH) has developed an biological version of a pacemaker. From a single heart cell, it has the technology and expertise to create a patch – a kind of band-aid for a heart – build a muscle strip and then mini-heart.

Besides that, however, it has created the MyHeart Platform which “revolutionises drug discovery and development.” Professor Li said that such development previously would take 10-12 years, cost US$2-US$3 billion and have a success rate of less than 5%. “It’s a broken process,” he said. MyHeart replaces animals and improves outcomes in an ethical way. For testing purposes, it can create healthy and sick hearts.

He said Novoheart has “unique inhouse software and hardware for scalability while increasing cost efficiencies,” adding that it wants to generate pipelines of candidates of drugs, including next-generation therapeutics. He said Novoheat will benefit from “nine-digit investment” over the coming year.