Frontiers Health 20/21 FACTS – A handy recap of digital health events and bright moments of this very extraordinary year

2020 was a defining year for digital health care. Before and especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, digital health, including software, mobile health applications, machine learning and AI, wearables, and personalized medicine, have created innumerable possibilities in improving both patient health and healthcare provider efficiency, while seeking to ease the burden on health care systems.

At Frontiers Health, we are proud to leverage such a proactive and resilient global ecosystem, operating on the frontline to tackle current crucial challenges ahead, through innovation, collaboration and solid and proven digital solutions.

We’d like to share and review together some of the events and news that have contributed to defining 2020 in the digital health industry, leverage a shared knowledge, a collective reflection, enabling us to better cope with the new year’s opportunities and hurdles ahead.

Following are some picks from the past year that we, at Frontiers Health, consider strategic and foundational to the next advancements in the health innovation space.

1. A global commitment to tackle the Covid-19 Pandemic

As response to the COVID-19 global outbreak grew, government organizations and healthcare providers had to address digital health with increased urgency. Many patients have found themselves unable to see doctors or receive normal medical care for fear of overwhelming the health system or potentially exacerbating the pandemic. Key health care stakeholders have renewed interest in technologies and initiatives that can provide concrete solutions to mitigate the pandemic. In May 2019, in the midst of the first pandemic wave, we began mapping the digital health response to the global health crisis. We vetted some of the most active players globally as scale-up and start-up companies, hubs, large corporations, institutions, acceleration programs, and created a market landscape to help map the organizations that are improving the value and impact of digital health and helping with coordination, cooperation and scale.

Why it’s important: Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital health solutions, and they have been growing rapidly as virtual care and remote monitoring become more and more pivotal to the overall healthcare ecosystem amidst the pandemic.

2. Digital health apps prescription

Starting in 2020, healthcare apps can be prescribed by doctors in Germany with the costs covered by statutory insurance. The move follows the launch of the Digital Healthcare Act (DVG) in 2019, which grants doctors in Germany permission to prescribe apps to their patients. A real challenge for new digital health solutions has been their cost. Digital Care Act’s most prominent effect is to allow reimbursement of costs for qualifying health apps prescribed by healthcare professionals (HCPs) under public health insurance. In order to qualify, a health app must be certified as a medical device in a certain risk category. Digital transformation of the healthcare sector boasts a range of opportunities for product development.

Why it’s important: The tremendous potential unlocked by the new and incoming laws is particularly relevant for providers of prescription-only health apps and telemedical software and hardware, who have a market of 73 million insured citizens available. In order to make the most of the opportunities in Germany, and to be prepared for upcoming innovations, market players must closely monitor compliance and political developments in the healthcare sector.

In his keynote speech at #FH20, Dr. Gottfried Ludewig, Director General Digitalisation and Innovation at Federal Ministry of Health Germany, focused on the promotion of digitalisation and innovation in healthcare for a better and more efficient health care for patients in Germany.  You can also learn more on DIGA in the #FH20 Masterclass “Fast-Track for Digital Health Applications in Germany (DiGA): Requirements, Application Process + Learnings”, curated by Dr. Henrik Matthies, Managing Director health innovation hub (hih) Juliana Dierks, Managing Partner of Dierks+Company and HELIX HUB and Prof. Dr. Christian Dierks, I Managing Partner of Dierks+Company.

3. Advancement in AI and machine learning

On September 2020, Biofourmis, which combines AI-based data analytics and biosensors to monitor the progress of medical treatments, announced the completion of a $100 Million Series C Funding Round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, to further empower personalized predictive care.

Why it’s important: Predictive health can be considered a crucial asset for the future of medicine. This funding further demonstrates the important shift towards a “beyond the pill” model, with digital therapeutic solutions operating as a patient companion as well as the increasing relevance of virtual care models to manage patients remotely. Biofourmis CEO Kuldeep Singh Rajput’s FH20 keynote available here.

4. The consolidation of the digital health technology landscape through M&A

On August 2020 we witnessed the merger of Teladoc Health Inc. and Livongo Health Inc, creating the largest virtual care operator in the global market. Teladoc is a telehealth leader while Livongo, a provider of coaching services that help people manage chronic conditions, falls in the category of remote health and disease management, both of which is also seeing soaring demand during the pandemic.

Why It’s important: It was a deal that could serve as a model moving forward for other digital health advancements in the broader healthcare ecosystem. Hear directly from Carlos Nueno, President International, Teladoc.

5. Digital therapeutics – It’s time to scale

On June 2020, The US FDA permitted the marketing of EndeavorRx, Akili Interactive’s long awaited videogame-based therapy to treat adolescents suffering from ADHD, representing the first FDA-Approved Video Game Therapeutic.

Why It’s important: 2020 has confirmed the regulatory domain and viability of Digital Therapeutics, that leave a wide open path to de-risking and accelerating investments into DTx solutions. Akili has been working toward the development of therapeutic video games for years, but this is the first time any game has received federal approval, creating a new class of digital therapeutics.  It’s important to take advantage of the regulatory and reimbursement opportunities that are materializing globally to do the same in other therapeutic areas. Equally important is being aware of the growing relevance of Pharma-DTx alliances, facilitating the scale-up and market uptake of such solutions. Kristin Milburn, Global Head of Digital Health Partnerships, Healthware Group, moderated a panel which explored the dynamics making these partnerships successful.

6. Our global hybrid events

Back in May 2020, in the peak of the first global lockdown due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Frontiers Health team conceived and held a +7 hours hybrid live event, broadcasted globally from Healthware’s Life Hub Headquarters, focused on understanding how the global digital health ecosystem has been responding to the Covid-19 challenge and beyond. Access the full video library of the event here.

Capitalizing on this experience, we ran our November global conference in a hybrid format for the first time, gathering more than 200 speakers and 1000 attendees worldwide, keeping the spirit of the conference intact also incorporating local physical hubs across Europe.

Why it’s important: We gathered key health care players and stakeholders to understand together how to reshape health in the new normal, discussing telehealth and DTx, the role of health institutions and payers, digital health acceleration and scaling and other pivotal topics.

7. Learning from failure

We’ve been very impressed by the insightful analysis shared in October 2020 by Andrew Thompson, past CEO and Co-founder at Proteus Digital Health, now acquired by Otsuka  Pharmaceuticals, on his intense experience as “smart pill” maker, whose sensor was the first of its kind to receive clearance from the FDA. We invited him to join a dedicated fireside chat at FH20 with pharmaphorum’s web editor Catherine Longworth about lessons that can be learned from the company’s troubled attempt to market the technology.

Why it’s important: this conversation is crucial to understand from a very unique perspective why breakthrough innovations often need time to gain proper traction, while reaffirming the value of digital medicines for vulnerable patients to get access to effective medications and achieve successful clinical outcomes at scale. Learn more in this article curated by pharmaphorum.

8. Effective digital mental health is more necessary than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused worldwide fear, uncertainty and restriction of movement. The physical distancing, socio-economic consequences of quarantine measures, and the loss of social support are a grave threat to public mental health. Over 2020, the potential of digital health to increase access and quality of mental health is becoming clear. Increased investments in digital health today will yield unprecedented access to high-quality mental health care, in fact over the last year digital mental health deals reached a record high, with companies in the space seeing record deal volume with 68 deals for an amount of $417 M.

We at FH20 hosted two panel discussions on the theme: one on meaningful experiences that can “heal” and also “cure” patients and another on digital mental health solutions and the quest of empathy.

Why it’s important: The field’s next steps will also be critical in ensuring digital health is used today to deliver the best care during the current crisis, ready for any resulting mental health spike following the current emergency and prepared to support future crises as well as care as usual.

9. Accelerating the adoption of patient-focused, decentralized clinical trials

As Covid-19 has spread across the globe and clinics and hospitals that served as trial sites were suddenly overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, virtual clinical trials are used to fast-track drug development, accelerating a key trend that could meaningfully change clinical research as we know it.

Our FH20 Lausanne Local hub gathered a group of experts to discuss weighty aspects of digital trials, such as real world data, patient stratification and digital biomarkers in predictive care.

Why it’s important: Digital trials are expected to decrease the overall costs of drug development, modernize data monitoring and management and positively influence patient engagement.

10. Pivoting on digital health companies to navigate through the new normal and beyond

Digital health companies demonstrated their ability to play an outsize role in both ameliorating the immediate effects of the pandemic emergency and in driving proven, positive changes in its aftermath.

Why it’s important: Digital health solutions are capable to deliver care both remotely and at scale and those capabilities are a good match to the current evolving needs of our healthcare systems suffering the burden of Covid-19.  Aware of such strategic roles, and capitalizing on our global hybrid format, at FH20 we reshaped our iconic Start-Up Discovey to allow for a larger number of promising companies, both start-ups and scale-ups, operating in crucial fields as, among others, mental and behavioural health, virtual trials, digital therapeutics and biomarkers, telehealth and virtual care.  As result, we hosted around 100 speakers at this year’s Discovery edition, counting all the presenting companies and the experts and investors interacting with them in dedicated Q&A sessions.