Healthtech start-ups that are helping to respond to the coronavirus crisis will be protected by a £1.25bn government support package so that they can continue to develop innovative products that have the potential to transform global healthcare.
The package, unveiled this week, includes a new £500 million loan scheme for high-growth firms, called the Future Fund, and £750 million of targeted support for small and medium sized businesses focusing on research and development.
The rapid switch to digital communication and tools across the sector, in the face of the crisis, is likely to have a profound impact on how quickly digital healthcare becomes part of the healthcare system in the next few years.
Healthtech start-ups in the UK are working side by side with bigger companies to help provide new services and technology during the coronavirus pandemic. The UK healthtech sector has been able to step up because it is one of the strongest in the world, having attracted $7.7bn (£6.2bn) from global venture capital investors over the last five years, according to data from Tech Nation’s Data Commons, provided by Dealroom.co. Healthtech is now the second biggest sub-set of the UK tech sector after fintech and there are more than 100 healthtech companies that are on track to become $1bn businesses.
From tracking cases to supporting front-line staff; loaning vital equipment and resources; providing online patient care; and gathering and analysing data; tech companies large and small across the country are rising to the challenge to help the government and the NHS.
Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital said, “Over the last month The UK’s healthtech sector has shown why it is a global leader, quickly using its expertise to develop practical solutions to help the government and the NHS with innovative products and services to respond to those in need. These new technologies will not only help in the here and now but they will also shape the future of healthcare in the UK and indeed across the world. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the startups and tech companies that have switched their entire focus to backing the national effort to tackle this health crisis.”
Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX said, “Tech can help the country deal with coronavirus. Digital tools are vital, whether they work to collect data or to connect patients with clinical staff. I’m delighted that so many startups and innovative tech businesses have offered their skills, talent and ideas to help us.”
Specific examples of tech companies assisting with the crisis include Facebook producing heat maps of coronavirus spread in real time, helping promote high quality information and Microsoft, Google, Palantir, AWS and Faculty supporting NHSX and NHS England’s technical teams to develop a data platform that provides safe, secure, reliable and timely data.
AccuRx, already a trusted tool for UK GPs to send text messages to patients, built a video consultation product over a weekend after coronavirus cases started rising in the UK and is now providing 35,000 consultations a day through its deliberately ‘low-tech’ solution. They are now used by over 90% of GP practices and are rapidly scaling in hospitals.
Oxford Nanopore Technologies has provided its suite of sequencing products to countries worldwide, to help with the research and genetic epidemiology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Benevolent AI has turned its AI drug discovery and development platform towards understanding the body’s response to coronavirus and exploring existing medicines with the potential to address the life threatening complications of the disease. While Faculty who had already partnered with NHSX to build its new AI lab, is now supporting the development and execution of its data response strategy in the context of COVID-19, alongside support from big tech companies Palantir and Google.
In six of the last seven years, investment in UK healthtech has been the highest in Europe and the number of companies in the sector has increased by more than 25% since 2015. During 2019 the sector received $2.3bn in venture capital backing, almost double that of France, the next highest recipient. The companies in the sector have a combined turnover of £24bn and employ more than 127,400 people across 3,860 businesses.