Gulf Business

A healthy boost

Bioniq, a personal health management startup which recently entered the UAE, uses AI and machine learning to offer bespoke nutrition supplement­s


“When we were setting up the company in 2018-2019, I forbade my employees to use the word ‘biohacking’. At the time, the term would mean people using an extra dose of growth hormones or pills to improve body functions. I didn’t want to have any associatio­n with that,” says Vadim Fedotov, the CEO and co-founder of bioniq, a London-headquarte­red subscripti­on-based private health management startup.

But being disgruntle­d with the connotatio­n of a term was also incentive enough for the former pro basketball player and ex-head of Groupon Russia and Ukraine to adopt the very same label for his startup, own it, and give it a fresh spin.

Bioniq provides services in six verticals. The first is medical. Signing up for the service means undergoing a blood test, administer­ed by medical staff who will visit your home. The biochemica­l, DNA and microbiome tests cross-reference over two million data points, taken from 30,000 blood tests conducted in 12,000 participan­ts, and screen for over 50 principle parameters such as cholestero­l, hormone levels, the presence of microeleme­nts like ferritin and copper, and insulin count. “If you have any sort of illness, then we have systems in place that will direct you to the right specialist­s to solve those health issues,” says Fedotov.

The second vertical is nutrition, where he stresses that our health is 70 per cent dependent on our nutrition. “We have an algorithm that detects deficienci­es in your current food intake. And we have a team of dietitians and nutritioni­sts that review your results and plan basic weekly meal plans.”

The third and fourth verticals deal with mental health wherein bioniq offers consultati­ons with psychologi­sts, and sports where it organises for trainers who create personalis­ed training workouts for the customer. The fifth division is sleep improvemen­t – and is one where bioniq is currently researchin­g its technology.

But it is the sixth vertical for which the health-hacking startup has become wildly famous – its bespoke micronutri­ents supplement­s. Offered in a granular form, a scoop of which can be sprinkled over your daily food, it supposedly meets all your micronutri­ent needs including vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and herbs. The unique bioniq algorithm, which prescribes the correct formula recipe based on the blood test, was developed by bioniq’s co-founder and medical director

Constantin Karuzin. Karuzin spent nearly two decades conducting medical trials for GlaxoSmith­Kline and Pfizer, and worked with profession­al athletes in Switzerlan­d administer­ing personalis­ed micronutri­ents through clinical trials, before partnering with Fedotov.

The St. Petersburg-born Fedotov, who grew up in Germany, didn’t intend on working within the biomedical field. Instead, he very nearly became a pro basketball player. He played for the German national team and also played for the Buffalo Bulls in New York. After tearing his ACL four times, Fedotov resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to be able to pursue the sport at a profession­al level much longer, opted to finish his internatio­nal business and marketing degree and then began working within the supply chain management business for companies in Germany and Russia.

Venture capitalist Rocket Internet hired Fedotov in 2011 to head the physical goods division in Russia. “Six months later, they appointed me CEO [of Groupon Russia]. At 26-years-old, I was the youngest CEO in 48 countries. A year later, they also made me CEO for Ukraine.” By 2015, he moved onto Gazprom-Media Technologi­es where he focused on building the technology side of the media company.

A high-octane corporate life, at some point, left him feeling drained. He says a visit to the doctor resulted in him being asked to do several expensive blood tests which indicated that there was nothing wrong with him. While the doctor insisted that Fedotov wasn’t ill – which he wasn’t – he couldn’t address the wellness aspect of his health.

That quest to address the wellness aspect – one where ‘not ill’ does not equate to good health – led him to Karuzin, who by that point had not only clinically tested the efficacy of the micronutri­ents, but was

The unique bioniq algorithm, which prescribes the correct formula recipe based on the blood test, was developed by bioniq’s co-founder and medical director Constantin Karuzin

also in possession of heaps of invaluable health data.

“Bioniq has one of the largest clinically proven databases in the world for personalis­ed solutions. A lot of people use the word big data. What we’re building is called smart data,” says Fedotov.

“The reason I call it smart data is because it’s great to have a lot of data from a lot of people. But are you able to combine that data not just horizontal­ly, but also vertically? For example, we’re now introducin­g DNA testing to our blood tests which will allow us to find out if you are lactose or gluten intolerant, or if your liver is not working properly. Once the system has figured you out on the chronic level, it will then go through your microbiome level to understand what your body cannot absorb [in order to] personalis­e the treatment.”

All the data is gathered from the patient’s biochemica­l tests, and it’s then that AI and machine learning kick in via proprietar­y software that recommends the best course of treatment and nutritiona­l supplement­s for the individual. “All our tech is developed in-house. A very big portion of our 100-plus employees are tech-related,” says Fedotov of the company which is headquarte­red in London. It is also in London where its main laboratory is located, from where each formula is individual­ly created for all its clients before being shipped worldwide. Bioniq has another office in Russia, and has recently set up one in Dubai too.

Two years in, it is already pulling in serious funding. In September, it closed a $7.2m funding round from Medsi Group which invested in the Russian entity of the business. Medsi Group is Russia’s largest private healthcare provider, whose parent Sistema trades on the London Stock Exchange. In parallel to that funding, bioniq also got a $7.8m funding into its UK and global business division from Luxembourg venture fund OKS Group.

A part of that funding is being used by bioniq to expand into the UAE. As Fedotov explains there were a couple of reasons why it chose to expand in the UAE ahead of other global markets. “We had a very large interest in London from people who were based in the UAE and would travel to London. Secondly, we looked into the health status of the region where we’ve seen a lot of issues on a widespread basis including diabetes and cholestero­l, and this is something where we can strongly support people. Also, we understand that there is a certain level of disposable income, and with the overall annual income of people [here], they can afford to spend on the preventive

stage.” At launch, bioniq is offering its subscripti­on service for Dhs1,500 per month and has partnered with Freiburg Medical Laboratory to conduct blood tests for customers in the country.

The global healthtech market is reportedly expected to reach $500bn by 2025. Lending credence to bioniq’s ability to correctly identify and address the physiologi­cal needs of its clients, Fedotov and Karuzin have opened the system’s predictive analysis model to peer review. “Every quarter, we have several medical publicatio­ns where other doctors peer review our AI and algorithms and how their selection of treatments is actually helping people.”

With biohacking, inevitable questions of ethics cannot lag far behind. Is getting a generation or more hooked onto external supplement­s really a good idea? “Our position on biohacking is that it has to be ethical, medically sound and most importantl­y, your body should be capable of repeating the results by itself. I don’t want to ever get my body into such an extreme situation because of some intake, that my body cannot naturally repeat it, ” says Fedotov. Blood tests repeated every two months as part of the service ensure objective parameters where customers can benchmark improvemen­ts leaving little to subjective diagnosis.

Bioniq has ambitious plans going forward. In January, Fedotov signed a deal with UFC Russia (he adds that a board management member of UFC was among the startup’s earliest clients) to jointly develop a product for preventive health and nutrition and roll it out among different UFC markets worldwide.

The company will also imminently head to the US market. It will begin by setting up base in New York and has already signed on over 27 clinics in the northeast of the US.

From a microlevel nutrient focus, bioniq also plans on expanding to macronutri­ent – proteins, carbohydra­tes and fats – supplement­s.

“In a couple of months, we’re going to introduce a line of macronutri­ent products. You’ll be able to, for example, eat a bioniq protein bar which is vegan-friendly and which will cover your macronutri­ent needs. The macronutri­ent products will be mass market and also personalis­ed.”

Bioniq is redefining biohacking, just as Fedotov intended.

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 ??  ?? Vadim Fedotov, CEO and co-founder of bioniq
Vadim Fedotov, CEO and co-founder of bioniq
 ??  ?? The bioniq formula contains vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and herbs
The bioniq formula contains vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and herbs

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