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All things Pharma

Start-ups, disruptors and the future of tech innovation

In the first of his monthly columns for Pf Media, David Reilly looks at the new generation of start-ups and examines what we can learn from emerging technologies that look set to shape the future.


“The secret of change is to focus your energy not on fighting the old, but building on the new.”

History teaches us that many great technical innovations are unleashed in the harshest conditions. The pandemic is no different and Digital Health London, the London based digital accelerator collaboration between MedCity, UCL PartnersImperial College and Health Partners, is expertly facilitating a new realm of battle hardened start-ups, solving some of the most significant challenges emerging  from the pandemic, ready for urgent deployment into the NHS.

Now in its fifth consecutive year, the Digital Health London’s Accelerator aims to accelerate the adoption of much needed technology into London’s NHS, relieving high pressure on services and empowering patients to manage their own health. Through its vast NHS connections, the purpose is to integrate proven, and battle tested inventive solutions into the heart of the NHS problems at speed.

Is this investment really paying off?

Data available and research conducted up until the pandemic suggests the programme is providing excellent value for money and significant value is being extracted. In April 2020, an interim evaluation of the Digital Health Accelerator found that for every £1 spent on the digital accelerator programme, £14.50 was saved. So, the Digital Health Accelerator has proven its worth, but the pandemic is now unleashing a different set of new challenges for start-ups and disruptors. Taking a look at some of the disruptive start-ups coming through this program, what can they teach us about emerging technology and the deployment to meet future requirements of health and pharma?

The pandemic accelerated a near immediate requirement for remote care continuity and the need to harness technology’s full potential for better patient outcomes, bringing safe, efficient and effective care for all. FibriCheck is one inventive digital solution provider emerging from the Accelerator, utilising mobile technology to respond to this new environment. FibriCheck describes itself as the ’world’s first medically certified app capable of timely detection of heart rhythm disorders’. Its design, conception and benefits are simple and clear: appointment free, a quick check-up is as easy as placing a finger on your smartphone camera for 60 seconds or opening the app on your smartwatch which can be scheduled into the busiest working day. This means that, with this device, diagnosed patients can monitor their heart rhythm with FibriCheck from the comfort and safety of home, saving caregiver coordination and travel time to in-clinic visits and adapting to the patient confinements imposed by possible future lockdowns.

FibriCheck’s founders are not simply standing still and using the pandemic for a springboard for new innovative solutions; their next plan is to explore the global wearables market and test a broader integration of our heart rhythm app into consumer wearable devices.

Breaking the backlog

The pandemic has also reaped severe damage on cancer and endoscopy services, resulting in a substantial backlog of patients seeking urgent cancer screening. One enterprising SME from the Accelerator Odin, has deployed a classic start-up pivot in direct response to this congestion as healthcare professionals (HCPs) work remotely in increasingly difficult circumstances. Odin have developed a speedy cutting-edge AI solution to support early detection of colorectal cancer, called Vision. The global pandemic forced the company to adapt their product and completely rethink the way they collaborated with doctors form the ground up in this new remote environment. Given that their foundational CADDIE system was cloud based, this has meant the service was able to adapt to the needs of doctors working from home seamlessly and at speed. They were able to capture feedback on user interface design issues from doctors working at home and deploy the system into hospitals without having to set foot inside.

Exercise prescription 

The importance of exercise to improve mental health has been a dominant theme during lockdown. Data conclusively shows that, while there has been an overall decline in physical activity in the UK due to COVID-19, it is of vital importance that those who suffer from chronic conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension to continue to move their body, but crucially at the exactly right intensity. Digital Health Accelerator SME EXi’s Co-Founder Carron Manning has swiftly adapted to this challenge and unleashed and created a tailored exercise prescription service specifically for those with COVID-19.

EXi’s data portal has adapted and built for health professionals to bridge the gap in patient follow-up and supporting long-term sustainable behaviour change. Straight out of the startup playbook, EXi app considered how they could adapt their digital solution to the new exercise requirement and minimise the risk of how the virus may affect a patient and adapted their platform accordingly for personalised exercise programs. Its adapted solution is simple in execution: patients will download the EXi app and can choose COVID-19 as a medical condition, allowing it to be tailored to their appropriate exercise prescription. This is where EXi truly shines and personifies the inventive spirit and success of the Digital Health Accelerator.

But this is just indicative of a new generation of health tech inspired innovation to emerge from the pandemic. The 12 new innovators and innovations announced to join its programme for 2021 will continue the ambitious inventive spirit aiming to support the transformation of the UK’s Health and Pharmaceutical sectors. This new cohort will address the key NHS priorities of today: digital and technology solutions which support the workforce, mental health and strategies which provide solution to COVID-19 and much more.

Professor Stephen Powis, Chair of the National Medical Director for NHS England, succinctly articulated the importance of this program to the future of NHS when he said: “After a year like no other for the NHS, the importance of innovation has never been clearer.”


My upcoming monthly columns will be exploring the next generation of tech innovation, digital breakthroughs and emerging disruptive solutions within pharma and healthcare.

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David Reilly
David Reilly
David Reilly is Managing Director of Let’s Learn Digital, educating and inspiring business in digital and emerging technologies.

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