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Gulf healthtech investment is just what the doctor ordered

Innovations in healthtech allow doctors to perform surgery virtually, using a headset Reuters/Issei Kato
Innovations in healthtech allow doctors to perform surgery virtually, using a headset
  • Mena healthtech sector valued at $1.5bn
  • Telehealth market predicted to grow 30.4% by end of decade
  • Doctors can perform surgery from a different country to patient

Technological innovation and broader changes in society are shifting the balance of power in healthcare across the Middle East region, increasing investment from entrepreneurs looking to capitalise on the sector’s digital revolution.

“The same wave of personalisation and consumerisation that ushered in analytics-based recommendation engines for entertainment has programmed people to want healthcare that is customised, personalised and delivered in a way that works with their lives,” said Jan Schmitz-Hubsch, partner at PwC’s global strategy consulting team Strategy&.

A report last April from the data platform dealroom.co reveals that technology is the health vertical that has grown the most in value since 2016 in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

The State of Healthtech in the Mena region reported that the startup ecosystem is valued at over $1.5 billion, a 22-fold increase from seven years ago. It also highlighted that new companies have received more than $200 million in venture capital funding over that period.

Schmitz-Hubsch said the increased interest is being driven, in part, by rapid developments in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and portable and wearable devices, which push the boundaries of how diagnosis and treatment can be delivered in a more personalised way.

Earlier this month Wellx, the region’s first wellness-based insurance platform, announced a partnership with metabolic fitness app Ultrahuman to help users keep track of their activities and key health metrics.

“Bio-wearables are the present and future of this industry as they can help identify diseases or any health scares before they occur,” said Vaibhav Kashyap, co-founder and CEO of Wellx.

The wearable healthtech market is tipped to be one of the largest and fastest growing areas of the next decade. A study by Deloitte revealed that 320 million consumer and wellness wearable devices are expected to be shipped this year – by 2024 that figure is predicted to rise to almost 440 million.

Companies are collaborating on their digital offerings to give the customer a full package in one product
Companies are collaborating on their digital offerings to give the customer a full package in one product. Picture: Unsplash

In a further example of collaboration between the insurance sector and healthtech, international providers William Russell teamed up with TruDoc to bring complementary telemedicine services to members in the UAE. The collaboration includes virtual 24/7 doctor consultations, as well as online prescriptions and specialist referrals.

Another lucrative sector, the telehealth market was valued at $2.6 billion in 2021 and, according to Grand View Research, is forecast to develop at a compound annual growth rate of 30.4 percent from 2022 through to 2030.

In January, Magic Leap, a US augmented reality (AR) startup backed by a $400 million investment from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, gave early access to its second-generation platform and headset to a small number of healthcare companies.

The former entertainment business had already seen its technology deployed in the medical profession, notably at California’s Davis Children’s Hospital where it helped surgeons safely separate conjoined twins. 

The 30 doctors involved were able to analyse the network of blood vessels that needed to be negotiated inside the head of the two children using the headset, painstakingly running through the procedure ahead of the real operation.

The company’s AR technology is also being used for the training and education of surgeons as well as in neurodiagnostics, and the headsets allow complex surgeries to be performed remotely, without the doctors being in the same country.

Last month, venture capital firm Biosis Ventures obtained approval from the Abu Dhabi Global Market to invite investors into healthcare startups in the US and elsewhere with a view to bringing specialist technology to the Middle East.

The firm has previously invested in food manufacturing, retail and ecommerce, but is branching out into biotech, medtech and healthtech.

“It’s a really exciting space to be in, first and foremost because we are directly impacting the lives and wellbeing of people,” Kerim Muvdi, Biosis Ventures co-founder, said.

“We want to look not only at return on investment but also at how the technologies we invest in can change healthcare in the region, improving patient care while reducing cost.”