Medical MedTech AI

China tech last year: Medical AI industry aims for commercialization, exploring new possibilities

Zijing Fu

posted on December 30, 2021 1:27 am

In China, medical AI is advancing rapidly, but profitability remains a crucial problem common in the industry. Medtech companies, even leading players such as Airdoc, Keya Medical, Infervision and Shukun Technology, have yet to achieve profitability as research and development costs remain high. Their annual losses range from tens of millions of yuan to hundreds of millions of yuan.

Commercialization has become the top priority for medtech companies. Therefore, they are making the effort to better connect innovative applications with the demand side.

AI for Digital Therapeutics(DTx)

According to “Medtech leaders prioritize technology and consumers”, a report by Deloitte, 63% of medtech companies surveyed agreed that Digital Therapeutics(DTx) will have a major impact on the industry over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, according to the predictions of Insider Intelligence, the DTx market will reach $9 billion in 2025 and $56 billion by 2035.

Digital Therapeutics are therapeutic methods focused on delivering clinical outcomes with the aid of digital technology such as wellness apps, wearables, and interactive simulations.

One of the med-tech companies in China focusing on DTx is Beijing-based WM Therapeutics.

Founded in 2010, WM Therapeutics focuses on the integration of neurocognitive science, clinical medicine, and computer science. WM Therapeutics has visited nearly 100 psychiatric and neurological clinical departments and developed an AI digital health care solution for CNS(central nervous system disease) disease that integrates the entire process of screening, diagnosis, and treatment, to treat diseases such as Alzheimer, according to Gao Yan, CEO of WM Therapeutics at an industry conference.

WM Therapeutics’s AI digital medical solution for CNS disease can accurately diagnose the cognitive function of patients with machine learning methods, identify the damage of individual brain networks with AI data analysis, thus providing patients with more accurate personalized treatment plans and patient behavior management. The AI DTx solution can also accurately analyze the behavior of patients after taking certain medications, therefore personalizing the management of side effects of medications, improving the efficacy of medication, and treating CNS disease more effectively.

By the end of 2021, WM Therapeutics has cooperated with more than 10 top medical facilities in the field of neuropsychiatry in China, applying the DTx method clinically.

AI for drug development

From preliminary research to clinical trials, monitoring, and regulator’s review, a new drug can take ten years on average to develop, costing $2.8 billion during the process. Over the last few years, AI technology has shown it has the potential to revolutionize the drug development scenario to a much more time-efficient and less costly one.

According to Bekryl Market Analysts, AI has the potential to provide over US$70 billion in savings for the drug discovery process by 2028.

There are approximately 138 AI drug development startups worldwide, with the US in the lead, having 86 in total, according to CB Insights. China’s tech companies are late to the game. According to statistics provided by Huoshi Database, there are currently less than 20 AI drug development startups in China, mainly located in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Shenzhen.

Big tech companies in China have shown a growing interest in the industry for the past year. Baidu launched BioMap in late 2020. BioMap is a biotech company focusing on innovative approaches in drug development, with Baidu’s then Vice President Liu Wei as CEO. At the beginning of 2021, BioMap launched a recruitment plan, aiming to attract people with medtech and AI backgrounds with a $1 million annual salary. The move shows Baidu is optimistic about the future of the medical AI industry.

In mid-2021, BioMap completed its Round A financing, raising hundreds of millions of dollars. The financing was led by GGV Capital and followed by Baidu, Legend Capital, BlueRun Ventures, Verity Ventures, and Xianghe Capital.

According to information released at Creator 2021, Baidu’s annual industry conference, BioMap has used its biocomputing platform and large-scale pre-trained models to successfully shorten the prediction time of typical protein structures from the current industry benchmark of 30 minutes to less than 5 minutes.

Previously, ByteDance and Huawei both started recruiting for biomedical-related positions. ByteDance launched Weihe, a medical laboratory company on December 29, while Tencent released its first AI-driven drug development platform, iDrug.

AI for medical imaging

90% of all healthcare data comes from medical imaging--and more than 97% of it is not analyzed or used, according to findings by GE Healthcare. AI medical imaging can offer a more efficient and accurate way of providing such medical services.

According to a report by Signify Research, the world market for machine learning in medical imaging, comprising software for automated detection, quantification, decision support, and diagnosis, is forecast to top $2 billion by 2023.

Chinese medtech companies such as Airdoc, Keya Medical, Shukun Technology, and Infervision have been focusing on the AI application in medical imaging and achieving key accomplishments in 2021.

Following COVID-19, medtech companies in China have been collaborating with hospitals to develop AI imaging methods and systems for COVID-19 and other cases of pneumonia. Shukun Technology, Infervision and Deepwise, three Beijing-based medical startups have respectively gotten license approvals for their AI pneumonia diagnosis products in 2021.

Around April 2021, Infervision and Deepwise respectively received Class III licenses from Chinese regulators. A prototype of Infervision’s AI pneumonia diagnosis product has been used by Wuhan Tongji Hospital since the beginning of the pandemic in China, while Deepwise’s product has been used by Wuhan Ninth Hospital and Huoshenshan Hospital.

AI pneumonia diagnosis products have also been embraced by hospitals in Japan, Italy, Germany and other countries and regions. On April 1, 2021, Infervision announced that the EU government has decided to purchase the AI COVID screening and diagnosis system from the company for the second time.

Shukun Technology got its Class III license for its AI pneumonia diagnosis product in December 2021.

According to Shukun Technology, it has completed a retrospective clinical trial in China to validate the diagnostic performance of its pneumonia diagnosis AI. The study included a total of 812 chest CT scans from multiple medical centers, including 273 CT scans of COVID-19 cases and 539 CT scans of non-pneumonia abnormalities. Shukun’s AI diagnosis system came back with excellent performance in key evaluation metrics.

Prior to receiving the Class III license in China, Shukun Technology has also received CE certificates of EU Medical Device Regulation (MDR) for its AI pneumonia diagnosis system in May, 2021.

AI for surgical robots

Compared to traditional surgery, surgical robots can offer more precision, minimize wound sizes and pain, also reduce the time needed for recovery. According to iResearch, the market size of surgical robots in China was 2.7 billion yuan in 2020, and is expected to grow rapidly and reach 19.3 billion yuan by 2025. AI-powered surgical robots industry embraced a boom in 2021, as favorable regulations encourage the development and application of such technology.

In February 2021, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a draft of the "Medical Equipment Industry Development Plan (2021-2025)" for public comment, in which surgical robots were identified as a key development area, and development plans were made for all technologies related to surgical robots.

The plan also proposed to include surgical robots and related medical services in China’s national medical insurance.

Subsequently, Shanghai and Beijing issued relevant policies. Shanghai announced in April that da Vinci surgical robots by American company Intuitive Surgical will be included in medical insurance, but will only be limited to four kinds of surgical procedures — radical prostatectomy, partial nephrectomy, total hysterectomy, and radical rectal cancer. Beijing announced in August that surgical robots by Chinese medtech company Tinavi will be included in the medical insurance.

The move solved a major obstacle to the application of surgical robots. Expensive pricing has long been a critical reason limiting the widespread use of surgical robots.

Cover image by on Unsplash.