AI in the digital health sector – a robot revolution?

There’s no doubt about it: artificial intelligence is quickly gaining momentum. Some industries are actually undergoing a complete transformation at warp speed. We give you a quick overview of where AI is at in the digital health sector.

AI in the digital health sector: an image symbolizing the topic
Image: © catalin / Adobe Stock

AI in digital health – on the cusp of a new era

AI is quickly becoming a key player across a wide range of industries – including healthcare, where the technology is especially making its mark in the digital health sector. While digital health and the digitalization of the healthcare system have already made lots of positive changes and opened up new possibilities, for example in the form of telemedicine and digital health apps, artificial intelligence is now the disruptive technology significantly shaping and advancing the healthcare industry. In fact, AI is currently becoming the technology of choice for drug manufacturers and other companies.

Balancing innovation, technology, and health: artificial intelligence in pharmaceuticals

AI in healthcare isn’t a new invention. Many companies have been using AI tools and AI-based development processes for some time now – particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have artificial intelligence to thank for some of the vaccines that were developed to combat the virus. For example, the vaccine manufacturer Moderna used artificial intelligence to make its mRNA vaccine. Its Senior Vice President Chantal Friebertshäuser once told the press that the development of the drug would never have been possible in such a short time without artificial intelligence and that AI is now integrated into all of Moderna’s departments – from HR to quality control.

Many other well-known figures in the industry also see AI as a major driver of success in the digital health sector. For example, Paul Hudson, CEO of the drug manufacturer Sanofi, recently emphasized the key role that artificial intelligence plays in healthcare. More than 11,000 people across his company are apparently now using AI every day for better decision intelligence.

The strategy and management consulting firm McKinsey has estimated that artificial intelligence could generate 60 to 110 billion dollars a year in economic value for the pharma and medical product industries, while accelerating research and commercialization thanks to aspects such as the AI-supported analysis of trials and patent information.

It’s official: the AI revolution has begun

AI is even being increasingly factored into strategic business decisions in the digital health sector. Physician and academic researcher Uğur Şahin for one sees huge potential in this respect. The CEO of BioNTech says his company is planning to leverage AI research, generative AI, and supercomputing to build world-leading capabilities. Together with other experts from the healthcare industry, he recently proclaimed an AI revolution in healthcare at a conference in San Francisco. And it’s not just empty talk, but actually a serious transformation process for almost the entire healthcare sector.

Digital health: AI is the new cog meshing health and technology together

A revolution requires tools and technologies. Tech giants and young innovators are already delivering those and see AI in the digital health sector as a promising business field. For example, the chip manufacturer NVIDIA recently launched new hardware specifically designed for drug discovery. The U.S. company is now building processors that are chiefly driven by the performance of generative AI apps and are capable of creating AI images and videos in next to no time.

The Alphabet subsidiary Isomorphic Labs, a startup that spun out from Google DeepMind, recently joined forces with the pharmaceutical company Novartis. The goal is for Isomorphic Labs’ AI-based protein structure prediction technology to help the two companies develop drugs in the future. Commenting on the collaboration to the press, Fiona Marshall, President of Biomedical Research at Novartis, explained that the cutting-edge AI technology “holds the potential to transform how we discover new drugs and accelerate our ability to deliver life-changing medicines for patients”.

Innovation in healthcare is even on the German Bundestag’s agenda

Admittedly, these and other developments and capabilities sound like (health) science fiction. However, AI and digital health are not future visions; they’re a reality that is now also on the radar of politicians. For example, Karl Lauterbach, the German Federal Minister of Health, recently proposed a draft bill for a new Medical Research Act. The planned law is intended to promote pharmaceutical research, remove the red tape, and make it easy for research scientists to access data. The overall goal is to bring investments and innovations in pharmaceutical technology back to Germany.

Get ready to ride the wave of transformation

AI in the digital health sector calls for bold trailblazers to surge ahead, explore the potential of AI in practice, and play a pivotal role in steering the transformation – from established pharmaceutical corporations to new players on the scene. These young companies are currently highly sought after by venture capitalists. For example, the Berlin-based startup studio Merantix recently announced a new fund for innovative tech companies. 100 million euros are to be invested in groundbreaking projects that have AI as their focus – including digital health solutions.

More info on the new AI fund: Adrian Locher, CEO and Co-Founder of Merantix, will be targeting investments at business models that are completely new and original. Among other areas, he sees enormous potential in healthcare and biotechnology. In a recent podcast episode hosted by Startup Insider (only available in German), the expert explains that the power of AI is simply vast there. Locher believes that AI facilitates significant progress. When deciding where to invest, he and his team therefore chiefly focus on automation and precision – in other words, aspects in which artificial intelligence can essentially be more efficient than humans. Merantix is now mainly investing in application layers. In contrast, infrastructure providers, for example for large language models, are not really a focus in the company’s investment decisions. According to Locher, only a few providers at that level are likely to become established on the market in the long term.

So, where is AI at in the digital health sector?

The question we should be asking instead is: Where won’t AI be present, if not everywhere? AI is really starting to dominate the healthcare industry. The hype hasn’t fully kicked off yet, but it’s clear where the journey is heading. The topic of AI and digital health is turning into a powerful melting pot of medical professionals, research scientists, technology providers, politicians, and investors. It will be interesting to see how things unfold and how the healthcare industry shapes its transformation. AI technology will definitely be the driving force and humans will be behind the wheel. Or as Adrian Locher from Merantix recently put it: “AI cannot set itself goals; it still needs humans to do that for it.”

In the end, we’re the ones who will determine our path – whether we leverage AI for the digital health sector, in another industry, or ultimately as society. We’ll be sure to keep you updated in our stories, so stay tuned!