Life Science startups keep up with COVID-19 impact on innovation

Sally Frank

Co-written with Cathy Zhu

As the world continues to battle a global pandemic, it is more critical than ever for the Healthcare industry to accelerate digital innovation and deliver treatments faster and more efficiently. To help support the Healthcare & Life Sciences (HLS) ecosystem and drive shared learning, Microsoft launched an innovation roundtable series last week bringing together key payers, providers, health tech investors and startups to discuss the emerging trends and opportunities in this space. Attendees included innovative health tech startups Activ Surgical, Aisera, Gynisus, and Ultromics, VC partners Nina Capital, Outcome Capital, Health Velocity Capital, and M12, and enterprise customers Humana and AstraZeneca.

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By creating the opportunity to hear from multiple perspectives, we were able to establish clear trends and learnings across three key themes.

Covid-19's Impact on the HLS Industry

With remote working becoming the new normal, telehealth and digital tools are necessary for businesses to respond to changes in care seeking behavior and patient management. The need for connected systems and new digital tools is essential to deliver quality patient care and provide intuitive, streamlined experiences. This evolution in healthcare IT operations and patient response has enabled companies to expand both their offerings and their geographic availability. Clinical trials and time to market have become significantly shorter, accelerating the need for related solutions, and changing how drugs and treatments will be delivered forever.

As new digital therapeutic development is speeding up, the VC market has never been busier. With pitch meetings done virtually, startups can make connections, raise money, and gain insights much faster without being within a 10-mile radius of Silicon Valley. The changing dynamics of raising capital is an exciting shift, empowering management teams to become more agile and nimble.

Regulatory Changes

It's no surprise that when it comes to working in healthcare and handling sensitive patient data, strict regulations are both a necessity and a blocker. As new innovations are being developed at a rapid pace, payer adoption for digital therapeutics has not caught up just yet. There was strong agreement regarding the FDA's role in new digital therapeutic adoption—regulations build trust and increase patient comfort levels. In the last 24-36 months, the industry has seen a major increase in the FDA's interest in AI technology that has transformed healthcare provider workflows and care delivery patterns. The publication, in January 2021, of the FDA's AI/ML-based Software and a Medical Device (SaMD) Action Plan further signals the desire of the industry to develop a holistic approach on how these tools are used and how they can improve patient outcomes, a trend the attendees expect to continue and accelerate.

New frameworks like Germany's Digital Healthcare Act (DVG) and the 21st Century Cures Act are also paving the way to getting approval for more digital therapeutics, and creating greater patient data flow and access to clinical data, helping the entire HLS ecosystem accelerate medical product development for patients who need them sooner.

How are pharma and med tech companies incorporating digital elements in their portfolios and planning? Discussions during this session validate the need to focus on both agility and socializing new tech adoption, leaning on technology partners like Microsoft to enable global scale. To mainstream telehealth and telesurgery and push new AI-based solutions to the edge, the use of 5G technology is quickly becoming healthcare's future.

To make it easier to develop and deploy these types of new solutions in the HLS space, Microsoft has launched Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, which provides capabilities to manage health data at scale, improve the patient experience, drive operational efficiency, and protect health information.

Microsoft is in a unique position to bring various stakeholders together, and also find integration opportunities that will help our health tech partners lead the way in digital innovation. We will be continuing these discussions both in the HLS space and across other industries to form new connections, find new opportunities to innovate, and stay informed. You can learn more about Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare here.