“AI-assisted data mining to save lives by reducing effort and time”
Co-founder and CEO of Wellthy Therapeutics
2017 has been a comeback year for health tech startups with investor sentiment picking up to touch $162 million as compared to a paltry $84 million in 2016. In totality, healthtech startups have raised over $912 million across 269 deals since 2014. According to a recent report by Deloitte, Indian healthcare market, which is worth $100 billion, is likely to grow at a pace of 23 per cent CAGR to reach the mark of $280 billion by 2020. From the positive developments with which the healthtech industry has started this year, 2018 will likely see many more healthtech startups flourishing.
Recently, Digital therapeutics firm Wellthy Therapeutics has raised $2.1 million from Ranjan Pai’s family office Manipal Education & Medical Group (MEMG) family office LLP along with Apoorva Patni led Currae Healthtech Fund, Singapore-based Beenext Ventures, GrowX Ventures, IIFL Select Equity Fund amongst other individual investors. The Mumbaibased firm that plays into digital therapeutics, enables treatment of type-II diabetes using a hybrid of AI and human paramedical coaches to improve health literacy and facilitate behaviour change for better outcomes in patients. It’s first digital therapeutic for type II diabetes has been endorsed by Asia’s largest diabetes association, Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India (RSSDI). BioSpectrum got in touch with Abhishek Shah, Co-founder and CEO of Wellthy Therapeutics, to find out about the plans the company has in store. Edited Excerpts-
Congratulations on the recent investment boost. What are the future plans?
Digital health interventions are a necessity to enhance the effectiveness of current chronic disease care. Our product suite directly boosts outcome efficacy in incredibly significant ways, well beyond what current healthcare is able to do. Currently, the plan is to use the capital to enhance the efficacy of the existing diabetes digital therapeutic while developing solutions for other disease areas for which clinical trials are set to begin in the second half of 2018. Nearly 1 in 3 patients who have diabetes also have hypertension and heart complications. We almost don’t have a choice in the matter; we must care for this huge segment of the population. However, we will continue to build our therapeutic capabilities slowly and surely, with proven outcomes and validated protocols of care established before we commercialise.
What potential do you foresee in revolutionizing healthcare technologies with artificial intelligence (AI)?
AI is already augmenting medical imaging and diagnostics, by helping diagnose a patient better, correlating it with their medical history and delivering the best treatment option in certain areas of healthcare like oncology. This will not only cut down the access to treatment time for the patient and offer personalised treatment but also help doctors make better decisions, and free up considerable, and precious, time of the doctor to attend to more critical patients.
AI-assisted data mining of patient data is already happening to understand trends and identify most successful treatment options. Apart from enormous time saving, this data mining will save lives by reducing the effort and time for researching diseases and their treatments.
Then there’s AI that can give you immediate feedback and action points. The benefits of this are being seen in emergency care, in hospital patient monitoring, and in lifestyle disease management by giving real time feedback on patient data points like blood sugar or meals, thereby educating the user in real time and ensuring immediate, real time patient care, further augmenting the Health Care Professional (HCP).The Wellthy Diabetes App is one such deployed digital therapeutic; it has an AI-powered chatbot and real-time feedback engine that gives immediate guidance to users upon receiving data inputs from them such as that of their meals, blood sugar or weight, as well as real time decision support to help the treating HCP and the paramedical staff make better decisions.
Although majority of consumers are willing to receive care from advanced healthcare technologies such AI & robotics, do you think lack of human element can pose as a major challenge?
I don’t foresee a future over the next 10-20 years where humans are completely removed from all major aspects of patient-facing healthcare. However, I do see a world very soon where the human is augmented by AI in decision making, communication, and in mining healthcare data. I foresee a lot of background work being taken over by the AI. I see robots, controlled and programmed by HCPs, to be able to lead some types of surgeries. That being said, there are other places where we are far away from a machine-dominated healthcare future, e.g. it will take time for AI or robots to be able to make ethical choices. Moreover, the human touch is irreplaceable in a lot of cases.
How is your association with RSSDI going to make a difference to diabetes care in India? What are the main efforts being taken in this regard?
With the support of RSSDI, we are taking on the responsibility of building awareness and improving adoption of digital therapeutics, a new category of medicine in India and South Asia: something we are committed to for the next decade. Our association will see incredible publications, studies and real world data coming out of it, which will help define the standards of care for diabetes in the years to come. Our randomized control trial is one more step to not just build credibility for the category, but a step to make India shine as a global leader in diabetes care.
Do you think consumer centric devices will take control of the healthcare market in the coming years?
Consumer centric devices like smartphones are already paving the way for access to most services the customer wants. Healthcare will be one more category to enjoy the privileges and challenges of being ‘on demand’. However, I don’t see the smartphone ‘taking control’ of the healthcare market anytime soon. Healthcare isn’t about discounts and access, it’s about outcomes and care.
With the advancing healthcare technologies comes the problem of affordability. How do you plan to ensure that your services reach the maximum number of people?
Born in India, we are committed to help every part of the pyramid. We are inspired by Tesla in their approach to build cheaper products for their customers by using data and learnings from the early adopters to bring the cost of the intervention down, without compromising quality. Our AI capabilities, our machine learning architecture, and our clinical and behavioral science product team help tremendously in this regard.
THEN THERE’S AI THATCAN GIVE YOU IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK AND ACTION POINTS. THE BENEFITS OF THIS ARE BEING SEEN IN EMERGENCY CARE, IN HOSPITAL PATIENT MONITORING, AND IN LIFESTYLE DISEASE MANAGEMENT BY GIVING REAL TIME FEEDBACK ON PATIENT DATA POINTSLIKE BLOOD SUGAR OR MEALS, THEREBY EDUCATING THEUSER IN REAL TIME AND ENSURING IMMEDIATE, REAL TIME PATIENT CARE, FURTHER AUGMENTING THE HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL (HCP).