How AI could transform post-pandemic healthcare

JOANNA SHIELDS   Astrid Stawiarz Getty Images

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The toll on medical professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic has been huge. In the UK, nearly 100,000 members of the National Health Service (NHS) workforce are currently off sick – around one in 10 employees. Half of those are absent because they are sick themselves, or have been forced to self-isolate because of their proximity to someone with COVID-19.

The absences are stretching healthcare provision in the country to its limits. But it’s not just frontline doctors and nurses who are struggling to keep going due to illness. Human labor has been pushed and pulled due to the pandemic in pharmacies and laboratories processing tests and coming up with new drugs. It’s something Joanna Shields, the CEO of BenevolentAI, an artificial intelligence-powered drug discovery startup, has been working on.

“The coronavirus pandemic reinforced how human intelligence partnered with purposeful technology can achieve inspirational results, even when the world is locked down,” she told Insider. “While AI models and algorithms will never fully replace scientists and clinicians, they can save time and money — which is crucial in our current climate.”

In the early days of the pandemic, BenevolentAI set its technology to work on the pandemic, trying to come up with treatments that could help alleviate pressure on medical systems. “Our AI models ingest scientific literature at scale, deriving contextual relationships between genes, diseases, drugs, and biological pathways leading to the proposal of novel or optimal drug targets and mechanisms, as well as the identification of the patients who will respond to treatment,” Shields said. “Such relationships may be completely new, previously or previously unrecognized due to the overwhelming volume of biomedical information that is now available.”

One solution they hit upon by combing through the literature was the use of one drug, barcitinib from Eli Lilly, that could help treat COVID patients. A November 2020 paper published in Science Advances by frontline doctors who took the signals from the machine learning trawl through literature and decided to test it on patients through the National Centre for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the US reported positive results. The drug, identified by BenevolentAI, contributed to a 71% reduction in mortality in patients with moderate to severe COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US used those results to grant it emergency use authorization on a wider scale, and it’s been used in hospitals there since the end of 2020. In the UK, barcitinib is currently undergoing tests as part of the UK Recovery Trial, where patients recuperating from COVID-19 are being given various drugs to see how best to treat future ill patients.

Quick action like this could transform post-pandemic healthcare, Shields thinks. “Experiencing a global health crisis on this scale, we have never been more aware of the fragility of human life,” she said. “One positive outcome of COVID-19 is that it has united science and tech for good, accelerating data-sharing agreements and encouraging the open publication of research results. This new environment of collaboration has provided a glimpse of the beginnings of a more open and adaptable R&D model that can accelerate the delivery of innovative and life-changing outcomes for patients.”

It’s also having an impact on those being drawn to participate and collaborate on finding solutions for healthcare problems that are blighting the world. In a trying time, Shields believes pharma- and med-tech have stepped up – and that success could draw more people into the field who can help cause future leaps forward. “We have also seen a significant increase in tech talent being drawn to healthcare or pharmaceuticals, driven by a desire to solve real-world problems and improve quality of life,” she said. “I believe that this passion and intelligence, partnered with new technologies, will propel us forward and bring new discoveries, new cures, and new hope to patients.”

It’s one that’s proven more necessary than ever before — and while AI has come under its fair share of criticism, there’s real hope, based on its use in this pandemic, that it could be harnessed for good by the time the next pandemic comes.

SEE ALSO: Vaccine experts report that the rapid progress on COVID-19 trials is a result of unprecedented global cooperation and focus

SEE ALSO: The coronavirus pandemic disrupted clinical trials. A top ALS researcher explains how that helps the work she’s doing.

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$1.5 billion digital-health startup Ro wants to be your online doctor. Here's how its coronavirus response rooted in rapid at-home testing fits into the new unicorn's long-term strategy.

Summary List PlacementRo, a hot digital health startup best known for selling generic Viagra, is taking another big step in expanding its healthcare ambitions.
Ro is teaming up with computer vision startup Gauss to offer at-home rapid COVID-19 antigen tests that provide results in 15 minutes, the companies announced Wednesday. The test is still awaiting emergency clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration. Ro doesn’t take insurance and declined to say how much it’ll charge for the test. 
The launch comes just a month after Ro announced it acquired Workpath, a startup that allows hospitals and clinics to send phlebotomists into patients’ homes to perform routine blood tests, furthering its goals to expand beyond its initial suite of mail-order pharmaceuticals for conditions such as hair loss or erectile dysfunction.
Ro’s aggressive moves into all parts of healthcare come at a pivotal moment for the industry, which has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike hospitals or clinics, Ro’s virtual care model combined with its network of real-world pharmacies and logistics makes it poised to tackle distribution for rapid tests and eventually vaccines, cofounder and CEO Zachariah Reitano told Business Insider.
“Right now there are two things universally needed in healthcare: access to the vaccine and easy access to rapid testing,” Reitano said. “We have the technology and the infrastructure to distribute tests to patients across the country, and we have the unique capability to facilitate a connection to a doctor if it requires a prescription to get the test. We can mail it to them and guide them through the next steps. Not many other companies can do that.”
Read more: The 26 billion-dollar startups to watch that are revolutionizing healthcare in 2021
Ro’s ambitions extend well beyond telemedicine
Ro started with a modest proposal: patients could virtually meet with a care provider and get generic prescription medications for conditions like hair loss or erectile dysfunction sent to their homes for a nominal fee.
Nearly four years later and the startup has skyrocketed to a $1.5 billion valuation while aggressively adding new products and services for its growing group of patients. 
When the coronavirus pandemic took root, companies like Ro and its competitor Hims added new patients as doctors’ offices shuttered and people remained hesitant to venture out to a nearby pharmacy, Reitano said. The virtual care model and easy shipping appeared tailor-made for a pandemic that left most Americans house-bound.
“Growth isn’t a problem right now,” Reitano said. “We’re going to expand and add services to try and keep up with the demand of the country.”
At present, that means building specifically for the coronavirus pandemic, Reitano said. The Gauss partnership is the first step in what Reitano said was his company’s responsibility in lowering transmission rates and saving peoples’ lives.
Reitano also said Ro is interested in helping with vaccine distribution, but declined to discuss the plans.
Ro’s future lies in testing
A more ambitious future for Ro could rely heavily on building a network of traditional healthcare services instead of relying on the partnership model it’s worked on in the past, repeat healthcare founder and investor Nikhil Krishnan said.
The ability to control pricing and cut out middlemen is key to the company’s long-term success because it relies on patients paying cash for services instead of working with insurance plans. The lower Ro’s costs, the lower it can keep prices.
“Lab testing, depending on how it’s structured, can be really expensive to outsource so it makes sense to bring it in-house at some point,” Krishnan said. “Ro has been pretty ahead of the curve in bringing those pieces of the value chain in-house.”
Part of the appeal of launching an at-home COVID-19 test is that Ro can substantially cut costs of currently available at-home tests that retail for between $100 and $150 per testing kit. 
“We’d like to put pressure on the market and bring the prices down across the board,” Reitano said.
To stay competitive, Ro wants to play a bigger role in its customers’ lives but needs more patient data to be effective. For instance, by offering lab tests and screenings from Workpath, it can help treat a larger variety of conditions through telemedicine and eventually in-person, Reitano said.
Krishnan said Ro is building an experience for patients in the real world after establishing a relationship with them online. Testing, and to some extent screening, can help companies like Ro gather more information on patients and better compete with physical healthcare practices.
“I don’t know if there’s necessarily a right way to strike a partnership, but I definitely think a lot of the telemedicine companies will have to figure out how to get this information eventually,” Krishnan said.
Reitano said he is eager to expand into other forms of testing with the goal of becoming what he calls a “fully integrated” primary care provider that can host virtual visits and ship a host of medications directly to patients while freeing up in-person care for those patients that truly need it.
“It’s just the beginning of us for testing,” Reitano said.SEE ALSO: 2 former Sequoia VCs just raised $500 million for their firm’s second fund. Here’s how they plan to spend the funds.
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AI IN HEALTHCARE ADMINISTRATION: How digital health firms and big tech are using AI to ease doctors' administrative burden

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Insider Intelligence publishes thousands of research reports, charts, and forecasts on the Digital Health industry. You can learn more about becoming a client here.

The following is a preview of one Digital Health report, the AI in Healthcare Administration report. You can purchase this report here.

Physician burnout has permeated the healthcare landscape over the last decade, costing the US healthcare system $4.6 billion annually. Over 40% of US physicians said they were burned out pre-pandemic — a figure that’s likely swelled amid the stress of treating coronavirus patients.

The staggering proportion of US physicians experiencing burnout is further compounded by findings that indicate the US is facing a clinician shortage: A pre-pandemic analysis published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects the US will see a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033. And now, the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating clinicians’ feelings of burnout.
Providers are seeking ways to combat burnout and cut back on the associated costs — opening an opportunity for tech players with AI-based healthcare administration tools. Provider organizations have expressed significant interest in reducing clinicians’ burnout, with hundreds offering their feedback to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the federal agency’s efforts to develop an actionable burnout-reduction strategy for physicians.
This presents a sizable opportunity for digital health startups and big tech firms alike, who have increasingly rolled out AI-based tools including machine learning services and voice-enabled digital assistants to help ease clinicians’ stress and address the physician burnout crisis permeating the US.
In this report, Insider Intelligence explores the factors driving burnout among clinicians, and how digital health firms and big tech are developing AI solutions to address the US’ physician burnout crisis. We first unpack the key drivers of US physicians’ burnout, including the weight of their administrative burden and extensive working hours. Next, we explore four AI-powered solutions we’ve identified as having the ability to most effectively combat physicians’ administrative burden and feelings of burnout. We then detail some of the limitations of current AI-based healthcare administration tools and explore barriers that have prevented some physicians from adopting the tech. Finally, we provide an outlook on what the next iteration of AI-powered healthcare administration solutions could look like.
The companies mentioned in this report are: Amazon, Amazon Web Services, Amgen, Apple, Austin Regional Medical Clinic, Cerner, CommonSpirit Health, Google, Google Cloud, Microsoft, Nebraska Medicine, Notable Health, Nuance, Suki, and Wolters Kluwer.
Here are some key takeaways from this report: 

Physician burnout has remained at dangerously high levels over the past 10 years — and the coronavirus pandemic is driving it to a fever pitch.
Clinicians cite the administrative burden of tasks like charting and paperwork as the top driver of burnout — with long working hours also playing a major role.
Digital health startups and big tech companies are rolling out AI-powered healthcare administration solutions to automate tasks and free up clinicians to focus their time on providing patients care.
Despite AI’s ability to combat physicians’ burden, several barriers — like cost and return on investment considerations — are holding some providers back from adopting AI for administration.
Digital health startups and big tech companies are working to overcome existing limitations and improve the capabilities of their AI-powered solutions to more effectively combat clinicians’ administrative burden — and resultant burnout — on a wider, more accessible scale.

 
In full, the report: 

Explores the factors driving US physicians’ burnout, and how the coronavirus pandemic is compounding clinicians’ stress.
Provides an overview of the digital health startups and big tech firms who have developed AI-based healthcare administration solutions with the ability to most effectively combat US physicians’ feelings of burnout.
Outlines the constraints of existing AI-powered healthcare administration tools and identifies factors that have stood in the way of adoption.
Highlights what the future could hold for the AI-based healthcare administration space.

Interested in getting the full report? Here’s how you can gain access:

Join other Insider Intelligence clients who receive this report, along with thousands of other Digital Health forecasts, briefings, charts, and research reports to their inboxes. > > Become a Client

Purchase the individual report from our store. > > Buy The Report Here

Are you a current Insider Intelligence client? Log in and read the report here.Join the conversation about this story »

Big pharma is using AI and machine learning in drug discovery and development to save lives

Summary List PlacementThe pharmaceutical industry has been slow-moving when it comes to adopting digital health technology, and pharma companies overall have taken a long time to implement AI and machine learning strategies — making broad-scale digital transformation difficult.

There is ample opportunity for drug discovery and development, but it relies on the ability of companies to implement advanced health tech into everyday strategies. 
While the healthcare industry is rapidly adopting digital tech, the pharma industry is lagging on digital maturity, and any measures even early movers are taking to catch up are patchworked due to a lack of strategy and digital-focused leadership.
AI & Machine Learning in the Drug Development Process
An incredible amount of time and money goes into drug development — bringing a drug to market costs about $2.8 billion dollars over 12+ years, according to Taconic Biosciences’ tally.  
Utilizing AI and machine learning can help at every stage of the drug discovery process. Healthcare AI startups were able to raise over  $2 billion in Q3 2020, and those using AI to streamline the drug making process were the recipients of some of the heftiest sums compared with startups deploying the tech in other healthcare segments.
AI in Drug Discovery (Phase I)
The drug discovery process ranges from reading and analyzing already existing literature, to testing the ways potential drugs interact with targets. According to Insider Intelligence’ AI in Drug Discovery and Development report, AI could curb drug discovery costs for companies by as much as 70%.
AI in Preclinical Development (Phase 2)
The preclinical development phase of drug discovery involves testing potential drug targets on animal models. Utilizing AI during this phase could help trials run smoothly and enable researchers to more quickly and successfully predict how a drug might interact with the animal model.
AI in Clinical Trials (Phase 3)
After making it through the preclinical development phase, and receiving approval from the FDA, researchers begin testing the drug with human participants. Overall, this is a four-phase process and usually considered the longest and most expensive stage in the drug making journey. 
AI can facilitate participant monitoring during clinical trials—generating a larger set of data more quickly—and aid in participant retention by personalizing the trial experience. 
Pharma Investments in AI
Big tech investments in pharma are at an all time high. Specifically, big tech firms with a broad range of AI and cloud solutions make valuable partners to drugmakers, which have varied needs when it comes to AI.

For example, Moderna leverages Amazon’s AWS cloud platform to speed up its drug development process. And while Moderna has recently made headlines as a top contestant in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, the company should also be recognized for its success in developing a cancer vaccine in just 40 days while leaning on AWS. 
Moderna is just one example of the many pharma companies taking advantage of Big Tech’s growing interest in the digital health industry. And Insider Intelligence expects Big Tech to continue using their AI brawn to forge pharma tie-ups.
Here are the companies analyzed in the report:

AbbVie
Amazon
Apple
AstraZeneca
Atomwise
Biofourmis
Eli Lilly
Exscientia
Google
Insilico
Litmus Health
Microsoft
Moderna
Novartis
Otsuka
Pfizer
Recursion Pharmaceuticals
Repurpose.AI
Roche
Sanofi
TriNetX
Verily
Verisim
XtalPi

Interested in getting the full report? Here’s how you can gain access:

Join other Insider Intelligence clients who receive this report, along with thousands of other Digital Health forecasts, briefings, charts, and research reports to their inboxes. > > Become a Client
Purchase the individual report from our store. > > Buy The Report Here
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