Europe has seen transformative innovation in healthtech over the past decade. The pandemic has only pushed the envelope further in terms of digital health. And more founders are building insurance and operations software for the industry.
But what have European healthtech founders not built yet?
Sifted asked six top healthtech VCs operating in Europe to share what they’re not seeing on their healthtech pitch decks.
Here are their bright ideas.
Pierre Socha, partner at Amadeus Capital Partners
Amadeus Capital Partners is a Cambridge-based VC investing in early- to late-stage rounds in Europe and Latin America. Its portfolio includes radiology AI platform Quibim, cell and gene manufacturing startup Ori Biotech and oxygen wound therapy company Natrox.
Vast opportunities with human computer interfaces
The way we interact with machines is changing rapidly. Touch may still dominate but voice — and increasingly vision — promise more ubiquitous and seamless interfaces for communicating with devices.
We believe that the next generation of human computer interfaces (HCI) will have a profound impact on society. We are moving from enhancing the way we communicate with machines to being physically augmented by them. In healthcare, the approach isn’t new — hearing aids and pacemakers have been in use for decades — but the scope of applications is expanding with new sensing technologies, data processing capabilities and treatment delivery mechanisms.
Things are moving fast. Two years ago, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University made a breakthrough in the field of non-invasive robotic device control. Using a brain-computer interface (BCI), it developed the first-ever successful mind-controlled robotic arm exhibiting the ability to continuously track and follow a computer cursor. This alone has broad applications, benefiting the lives of paralysed patients and those with movement disorders.
The scope of applications and market size will grow as we live longer and the diseases of age become more prevalent. Expect waves of minimally to non-invasive theragnostic (a treatment strategy that combines therapeutics with diagnostics) to reach the market in the near future. Some will be designed to counter cognitive and motor decline and others will tackle pain management and inflammation by altering the way the brain modulates immune response. Looking at the space from a logistics standpoint, patients and payers will benefit from technology that allows greater autonomy and mobility — the key to healthy ageing. We are just scratching the surface.
Lee Cooper, senior director of venture investments at Leaps by Bayer
Leaps by Bayer is the corporate investment arm of German life sciences giant Bayer. It mainly focuses on investing in early- to late-stage health companies. Cooper’s investment portfolio includes therapeutics company Senti Bio, digital healthcare startup Ada Health and biotech startup Dewpoint Therapeutics.
Mitigating failure in clinical trials
Only 1 in 10 medicines that go into clinical studies in the US get approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Failure is often due to imperfect pre-clinical models, which tend to be animals or simple cell lines.
Given the biological nuance of human metabolic and immune systems, testing medicines on animals will never be perfect. I would love to see more patient-derived stem cell and organoid technologies that improve the translation of innovative medicines into clinical studies. We could safely test medicines on more personalised human biology earlier in the research process, leading to a higher likelihood of success, fewer animals involved and improved data sets for long-term comparison of products.
Patient-derived stem cell and organoid technologies could improve our ability to treat or cure many diseases — including cancer, heart disease and neurodegeneration. These technologies could facilitate better drugs with fewer expensive failures, benefiting countless patients and their communities.
Anne Osdoit, partner at Sofinnova Partners
Sofinnova Partners is a European investment firm specialised in life sciences and healthtech. Osdoit’s investment portfolio includes medical insoles startup FeetMe and minimally-invasive robotic surgery startup Moon Surgical.
Digital tools to treat pain faster
Pain is an unpleasant function that tells our brain that something bad is happening to our bodies — it is estimated that about 1.5bn people suffer from chronic pain globally. While there are medications that exist to treat pain, these medicines can be ineffective or harmful if patients become dependent on them.
As a result, I'd love to see more entrepreneurs tackle this problem. There are some very interesting early projects focused on different kinds of pain, for example, pain in children and women’s health-related pain from menstruation or endometriosis. These are based on a digital assessment tool and then treatment is delivered via a digital platform. I think there's a significant opportunity to address pain through these new technologies — it would provide patients with an easier and faster method to treat their pain.
Søren Fryland Møller, partner at Crista Galli Ventures
Crista Galli Ventures is a London-based venture firm with a focus on pan-European healthtech at seed and Series A. Møller’s portfolio includes French radiology startup Gleamer, German women’s digital health app Keleya and British personalised medicine startup Sanome.
Democratising clinical information for patients to improve patient outcomes
Knee replacement is a common surgery where there are multiple touchpoints for improving the delivery of clinical information to patients. Today, pre-operative patients get a short surgical appointment and a leaflet about the surgery. Post-operatively, they stabilise in hospital and are discharged with physiotherapy and a follow-up appointment.
What if there was a mobile app to guide patients through knee surgery? Downloaded at the first orthopaedic clinic appointment, the app would have clinical details of a patient’s surgery written by your surgical team, videos of what to expect on the day of surgery at your hospital and tips for improving health and nutrition before surgery, including guided health coaching.
After surgery, the app would provide information on pain relief, a timeline on expected healing, key hospital contact details and guided physiotherapy exercises. This idea would have traction in both the public and private health sector across a wide range of surgical procedures.
Also, today’s clinic letters and reports are written by doctors for doctors. The patient is an afterthought. There is an open market for the democratisation of clinic letters and reports (e.g. CT scans). Translating these from ‘clinical’ language to ‘lay person’ language could be done via natural language processing, providing opportunities for startups to work with electronic health record (EHR) providers.
Instead of patients Googling complex results they received (but didn’t fully understand) in their clinic appointment, future healthcare systems could provide clinical documents written for both doctors and patients. These patient-centric reports could be distributed electronically to a patient’s phone via a secure portal.
Jerome Zois, principal at UNIQA Ventures
UNIQA Ventures is the strategic investment arm of Austrian insurance giant UNIQA. UNIQA Ventures's portfolio includes Spanish orthodontics startup Impress, British diabetes app Second Nature and Polish telemedicine startup Telemedico.
A fertility app combined with an insurance service
A great idea for a healthtech startup would be an insurance model that covers the aspect of fertility in combination with an app that helps you get pregnant and to monitor your fertility in general. The target group would be parents who would insure their child, as an additional medical insurance. The insurance could then be transferred to the child itself once he or she reaches legal adulthood. In the case the child is not able to have reproduce, he or she will gets a certain sum which can also be used for special treatments around reproductive measurements.
We believe that there is a significant market gap regarding this issue, because this is an aspect that is not really covered by insurance carriers, and the topic of fertility is oftentimes overlooked. It is an issue that more people — both female and male — are facing reproductive struggles which are most likely tied to lifestyle choices or later family planning, so there will definitely be more demand for solutions which tackle this issue.
Jan-Hendrik Bürk, principal at btov partners
Btov partners is a European venture capital firm focused on early-stage investments in digital and industrial technology companies. Bürk’s portfolio includes mental health platform Happify, digital health startups Vantis and Heartbeat Medical.
Building a Shopify for digital therapeutics solutions
Looking at the surge in digital therapeutics (DTx) solutions now covering pretty much all major indications, I believe it is time for overarching middleware solutions further enabling DTx players.
Relevant ancillary, yet increasingly important toolsets for DTx solutions include clinical trials management, patient support, reimbursement as a service or drug ordering and delivery, to name a few.
This access to fully specialised and intelligent middleware would allow DTx solutions to provide an end-to-end (virtual) care offering without having to build everything from scratch.