Overseas AI Tech Founders Seek Partnerships to Navigate U.S. Healthcare

Dr. John Halamka, president of Mayo Clinic’s health technology and big data effort, Mayo Clinic Platform, traveled more than 6,000 miles last week to launch the healthcare system’s latest technology initiative based in Rochester, Minnesota: A partnership with Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv.

The two hospitals will co-develop and validate artificial intelligence algorithms, including those used for image analysis, digital pathology and clinical specialties like cardiology, neurology and nephrology.

Mayo Clinic and Sheba Medical Center will also support AI startups participating in each other’s innovation programs. For example, Mayo Clinic will help AI startups working with Sheba Medical Center understand US market needs, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance, and Food and Drug Administration authorization. .

“We believe that to achieve the global transformation of healthcare, which is [the] Vision of the Mayo Clinic platform, you must work globally and adopt the best technologies around the world,” Halamka wrote in an email.

The Mayo Clinic is the latest healthcare organization to strike an overseas deal to tap into a broader ecosystem of AI discoveries.

Funding for healthcare AI startups around the world nearly doubled in the past year, as investors poured $12.2 billion into these companies, according to data compiled by CB Insights. AI funding for healthcare hit a quarterly high in the fourth quarter of the year, at $3.7 billion.

While US-based startups dominated healthcare AI funding, nearly a third, or $1.1 billion, of fourth-quarter funding went to companies from other regions, mainly in Asia and Europe.

Still, it’s not an easy journey for products coming to the US market, especially for technologies that are gaining traction like AI. Startups must establish business models that align with how health care operates in the United States and navigate a complex regulatory approval and payment landscape comprised of a mix of Medicare, Medicaid, and private payers.

Just because a startup has regulatory approval — like the CE mark, which stands for European regulatory approval — from another government doesn’t mean it’s ready to receive the green light from the US FDA. In fact, it’s common to see companies obtain CE marking for devices three or more years before bringing the product to market in the United States, said Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy adviser at the Connected Health Initiative, an industry coalition that champions health technologies. Strategies.

This is where collaborations with US health organizations can prove fruitful. Partnerships can provide healthcare organizations with early access to innovations and entrepreneurs with support in developing a localized business plan.

AI startup Soundable Health was founded in South Korea in 2017 and in 2018 established its headquarters in San Francisco. “It was a very natural decision for us,” said Catherine Song, its founder and CEO.

The startup primarily works in the United States, although it is also exploring partnerships in Europe and South Korea.

During the early years of Soundable Health, she focused on developing AI technology. But in 2020, the company has focused on bringing the first product to market — an app that assesses bladder health by analyzing the sounds of a patient’s urine flow — and is gearing up to sell to academic medical centers and clinics. urology specialists in the United States.

To help him learn the intricacies of the U.S. healthcare system, Soundable Health collaborated with the nonprofit Korea Small-Medium Enterprises and Startups Agency, which is funded by the South Korean government, and Matter, an incubator Chicago-based healthcare startups.

The program, dubbed the Korean SME US Market Adoption Program, helps Korean companies adapt their product, sales and fundraising strategies for the United States. Matter has a similar program for Canadian startups and in June partnered with Amazon’s cloud arm for an incubator focused on Europe, Middle East and Africa startups.

Texas Medical Center, a Houston-based medical district, has developed infrastructure to help launch international startups. The group’s BioBridge program, which began with Australia in 2016, partners with agencies in other countries and helps startups in those regions develop go-to-market strategies and test their products in the United States.

The program has expanded with the United Kingdom, Denmark and since May, with Ireland. In many cases, startups that enter the United States through BioBridge establish their U.S. base on the Texas Medical Center campus, giving member hospitals continued access to their work, said Bill McKeon, president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center.

“We want the best solution, whether it’s the next medical device, next drug, or next digital solution, we want it to happen on this campus,” McKeon said.