The rise of telemedicine, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to drive the evolution of healthcare, says Donald Lacey, Ping An Global Voyager’s Chief Investment Officer.
“There are two themes where we see a lot of opportunity,” Mr. Lacey said at an AVCJ Private Equity & Venture Forum in Singapore. “First is what we call diagnosis at a distance: technologies and solutions that have the effect of making the telemedicine more effective. Second is an emerging class of AI and machine learning solutions that better leverage the capabilities of overstretched medical professionals – different kinds of AI solutions that have the effect of better leveraging scarce medical resources, which is a problem around the world, but particularly in a lot of Asia.”
Ping An Global Voyager is an investment manager set up by Ping An Group to pursue growth stage venture opportunities in fintech and digital health. Mr. Lacey oversees certain investments by Ping An Group as well as Ping An Voyager Partners, a third party fintech and digital health fund backed by global institutional investors.
At the forum, Mr. Lacey noted, “What we saw in in the time of COVID was a dramatic increase in adoption rates for telemedicine and with that, just an explosion of interest in the field.”
Telemedicine must continue to evolve, Mr. Lacey said. With remote interactions between medical professionals and patients, there is a limit to how rigorous the analysis can be, and how prescriptive medical professionals can be in the treatment of patients.
“What we see in the next stage is a big focus on diagnosis at a distance and the development of different kinds of tools and platforms to make telemedicine deliver on the promise,” Mr. Lacey said. “So that's one of the reasons we focus so much on different kinds of diagnostic solutions that can be deployed onto telemedicine platforms, and dramatically increase their efficacy. Tools like AI, analysis and diagnostic support can help medical professionals in their analysis and diagnosis, for instance, helping overstretched radiologists read, analyze and achieve a diagnosis from CT scans.”
Even telesurgery, or robot-assisted surgery, is now possible, Mr. Lacey added. “It's not science fiction.”
Ping An Voyager has invested more than US$500 million to date, in fintech, insurtech and healthtech in North America, Europe, Israel and Asia.
Mr. Lacey said there are a lot of good ideas, but also many difficulties. A key success element is the path to monetization. “For instance, the cost of customer acquisition can make a proposition unsustainable. So an opportunity without a solution to monetization is extremely dangerous to invest in.
“There’s a giant difference between a technically attractive solution and a solution with a clear path to monetization. In digital health, I think that is an exceptionally dangerous way of investing because there are lots and lots of technically brilliant ideas that have no clear path to reimbursement, have no clear path to commercialization or perhaps customer acquisition costs are just way too high.”
Ping An Global Voyager Fund
Established in 2017 by Ping An, Ping An Global Voyager is a Hong Kong-based investor in growth stage fintech and digital health companies. The fund typically invests between US$15 million and US$50 million in non-control positions in companies where an affiliation with Ping An is likely to create significant value over time. Global Voyager manages over $1 billion in assets across several investment vehicles, notably Ping An Voyager Partners, a third party fund whose LPs include some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated financial institutions.