Finnish healthtech sets up for growth with funding, acquisition, innovation
Finland’s Veri has developed a wearable tracker that, when scanned with a smartphone, provides feedback on how food choices affect blood glucose levels in real time.Veri
Finnish companies have continued to work on solutions with global appeal to personalise and raise the level of healthcare and tackle challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and population ageing, cementing the status of healthtech as a key high-tech segment in Finland.
Helsinki-based Veri on Monday reported it has closed a combined pre-seed and seed funding round worth roughly four million US dollars. Led by PROFounders and joined by Accel and Lifeline Ventures, the round enables the startup to commence shipping its wearable blood glucose trackers to customers in the US.
The tracker helps users to discover their optimal diet by providing real-time feedback on their food choices through the accompanying app, as well as provides personalised insights gleaned from analyses of blood sugar levels during exercise and sleep.
The wait list for the preventive healthcare and wellbeing tool has swelled to more than 50,000.
“It is like having the best nutritionist in the world standing by your side 24-7, helping you understand how your food and lifestyle choices are affecting your personal metabolism in real time,” described Vimal Ramjee, a cardiologist, culinary medicine specialist and director of health at Veri.
CEO Anttoni Aniebonam pointed out in the press release that metabolic health is one of the strongest predictors of lifespan. It is also a topic that is receiving more and more attention as healthcare systems across the globe are shifting their focus from treating to preventing diseases, a shift made all the more urgent by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the US, for example, 88 per cent of the adult population have poor metabolic health, predisposing them to issues such as cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.
Funding for remote health, diagnostic tools
The funding round was far from the only one wrapped up successfully in early June.
Medixine, an Espoo-based provider of remote care and communication tools for healthcare, announced this week it has raised 2.9 million euros to introduce new products to its all-in-one suite and grow its presence outside Finland, principally in Central Europe and the UK.
The funding round was led by a crowdfunding campaign organised by Springvest.
Medixine Suite is a platform consisting of communication, monitoring and collaboration tools for everyone involved in the care process, enabling secure messaging, video appointments, health monitoring and automatic screening of illnesses. The functions help healthcare providers to prioritise patients in need of urgent care and reduce unnecessary appointments and shorten hospital stays.
The platform currently covers roughly 2.5 million patients in Europe.
The demand for such solutions has spiked during the pandemic, as societies around the world have scrambled to protect healthcare staff and patients most vulnerable to the virus without compromising the quality of care. The pandemic, however, has only accelerated what was already deemed an inevitable transition due to population ageing and increase in chronic illnesses requiring long-term care.
“Medixine’s business is growing due to quickly advancing digitalisation of healthcare,” analysedPauli Marttila, senior lead of venture capital and risk management at The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, one of the earlier investors in Medixine.
“In the future, an increasingly significant amount of public funds will […] go towards healthcare. Making sure that healthcare runs smoothly and efficiently will benefit all of us.”
Aiforia, meanwhile, announced last week it will continue enhancing precision diagnostics and pre-clinical analysis in pathology after closing a 12.6 million-euro equity round led by Epredia UK.
The Helsinki-based startup revealed it intends to use the capital to consolidate its standing among pharmaceutical companies worldwide looking to expedite their development pipeline with deep-learning artificial intelligence solutions.
It also intends to promote the development and release of its clinical suites for diagnosing the most common types of cancer. The disease-specific suites allow pathologists and hospitals to wield artificial intelligence to accelerate sample review, enhance diagnostic accuracy and, ultimately, improve patient outcomes.
The suites for breast and lung cancer are expected to receive the CE-IVD mark and launch later this year.
Jukka Tapaninen, CEO of Aiforia, viewed that the successful round validates the importance of scalable and powerful tools for pathology in disease diagnosis and drug development.
“This fresh funding enables us to further our long-term vision in the clinical field: providing a single platform with broad clinical possibilities to enable precision diagnostics and therefore personalized patient care,” he said.
“Their solutions have the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of image analysis in the area of research and potentially even in the clinical setting,” attested John Sweeney, president of Epredia.
Sustained export growth
It is solutions like these that have propelled healthtech into an important segment of high-tech exports for Finland.
The exports of health technology have increased steadily already for two decades, climbing from 2.4 billion to almost 2.5 billion euros between 2019 and 2020, according to the Technology Industries of Finland.
The US remained the most important export destination last year, accounting for one-third of the exports. Europe, though, is increasingly important for the segment, with its share of the total jumping from 871 to 1 028 million euros – or 42 per cent. While the exports of patient monitoring and X-ray equipment fell by more than 10 per cent to 1.58 billion euros, the fall was offset by an over 27-per cent jump in the exports of laboratory diagnostics to 830 million euros.
Another telltale sign of the significance of the segment is that it has contributed a surplus of about 14 billion euros to the overall trade balance of Finland in the 2000s.
Its impact, however, is greater than the hard numbers suggest, believesSaara Hassinen, CEO of Healthtech Finland. “Diversity is an asset for the industry. For example, international companies are investing great sums in the research, development and innovation activities of their subsidiaries operating in Finland. As these are also key exporters, they bring not only new solutions but also new jobs and investments to Finland.”
AI for testing, diagnosis
Artificial intelligence is also at the heart of work by Helsinki University Hospital and Top Data Science.
The latter reported last week that a high-throughput solution for mass coronavirus testing powered by its artificial intelligence technology has been approved by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health. Developed in collaboration with Ampharco USA and Vietnam Military Medical University (VMMU), the solution was immediately put to use to conduct population-wide screenings in Bac Giang, a northern province of Vietnam.
It is capable of detecting an infection even from samples with a low viral load and boasts the potential to analyse 8 820 samples per analysis at half the cost of traditional testing, according to Ho Huu Tho, principal investigator at VMMU.
Timo Heikkinen, CEO of Top Data Science, is proud that the health technology managed to develop an entirely new solution for diagnostic testing while meeting the strict regulatory requirements for medical devices.
“This solution will be further developed according to the changing pandemic situation, customer requirements and for other testing use cases beyond SARS-CoV-2,” he told.
Helsinki University Hospital announced it has moved on to phase two of AI Head Analysis, a collaborative effort to utilise artificial intelligence to support the work of radiologists diagnosing brain disorders from head imaging scans. While the first phase of the project yielded an algorithm capable of identifying subarachnoid haemorrhage at an accuracy of 94 per cent, the goal of the second is to create a suite of algorithms capable of identifying up to five types of brain haemorrhage.
The algorithms are trained with a dataset comprising over 16 million head scans.
Brain haemorrhage is an abrupt and dangerous disorder partly due to how difficult it can be to detect. Subarachnoid haemorrhage, for instance, is fatal for 75 per cent of patients within a year if unnoticed.
“Brain haemorrhages are difficult to detect, because the symptoms can only include a headache,” explainedTaru Hermens, project manager at Helsinki University Hospital.
The need for diagnostic tools is pressing because the number of radiologists is on the decline while that of medical imaging examinations remains high; Finnish hospitals alone perform about 180 000 computerised tomography (CT) scans of the head a year. An artificial intelligence-powered tool, though, can also be more precise than the human eye, offering greater diagnostic consistency.
“The tool does not erase the responsibility of the physician,” assured Hermens. “However, it can help and support them in detecting the disorder. Also, in the emergency departments with no radiologists, this tool could help the medical staff to send the patients into further examinations.”
Insights from clinical data
Helsinki-based BCB Medical announced last month it has acquired its Swedish partner of almost a decade, Health Solutions, to create a new powerhouse in the healthtech and life sciences market in the Nordics.
“This is an important step for us towards internationalisation,” saidPetteri Viljanen, chief executive of the market leader in advanced software systems for gathering and analysing clinical data in Finland.
“With this transaction, we will immediately be able to reach a wider international audience for our advanced technology.”
BCB Medical has developed disease-specific monitoring and communication solutions that enable healthcare staff to evaluate the efficacy and quality of treatment, improve treatment chains and analyse real-world clinical data. The solutions have been used in over 100 research projects and almost 350 clinics in Finland.
The combined company will initially have a staff of more than 100 professionals, but both companies are set to begin recruiting to lay the groundwork for future growth.
“Data science and the use of real-world evidence in healthcare has a significant role to play in the development of novel treatments,” viewed Birgitta Stymne Göransson, board chairperson at BCB Medical Holding.
“The Nordic region is leading this development. The acquisition and the new combined entity are major steps in being able to offer our solutions to a wider international customer base, to the ultimate benefit of the patients.”
Bayer invests EUR 250 million in Turku
Germany’s Bayer on Thursday announced it is investing 250 million euros in building a new production plant and modernising its existing one in Turku, Southwest Finland. To be built in the western district of Artukainen by 2025, the new plant will extensively utilise modern technology, including robotics and digital data visualisation.
“Both plants will meet the same high standards and will be needed to meet product demand,” said Jennifer Hunt, head of Bayer’s Product Supply Centre Turku.
The pharmaceutical giant develops and produces intra-uterine contraceptive devices and birth control implants in the almost 200,000-resident coastal city. The contraceptive hormonal coil product family developed and produced there is the third-best selling product globally of Bayer.
The investment, it envisioned, will strengthen the city’s position as the “contraceptive capital” of the world.
“Turku is Bayer’s global centre of expertise and innovation hub for polymer-based pharmaceutical technology and long-acting reversible contraceptives. Supply Centre Turku is one of Bayer’s most important pharmaceutical facilities globally, supplying long-acting contraceptive products to over 130 countries,” said Hunt.
Miriam Holstein, CEO of Bayer Nordic, added that the city also has a significant role in the sustainability strategy of Bayer, which sets forth goals such as providing 100 million women in low- and middle-income countries access to family planning and modern contraception by the end of 2030.