Harnessing the power of AI for Global Health

By Anurag Agrawal

With half a billion people in India needing far better access to high quality essential health services, the country’s growing digital expertise and infrastructure offer much scope to help improve lives. Yet it is also clear that the potential for innovation must be matched by careful governance. Almost 400m people in India have smartphones, half a billion use the internet regularly, and mobile data costs are a tenth of the global average. Aadhaar, the Indian digital universal ID, a system of biometrically verifiable unique identification numbers, is now available to most of the country’s residents. India has strong medical, technological and applied research institutions such as the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, Indian Institutes of Technology and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The country’s healthy democracy — the largest in the world — provides accountability. There is a big shortage of trained physicians and nurses, but the many auxiliary health workers available means there is a great opportunity to use artificial intelligence and other technologies to support medical staff in their work. Yet concerns about the applications of technology are emerging, not least over privacy, accountability and equality of access in order not to leave the poor behind. A new joint Lancet and Financial Times Commission, chaired by Ilona Kickbusch of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and me, is exploring these challenges.


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Medical Devices Stocks Are in Rude Health

By Charley Grant (WSJ)

When earnings season begins in earnest this week, health-care investors will be relying on pacemakers and artificial knees.

The S&P 500 Health Care Sector index has returned about 4% so far this year. That is the second-worst performing sector over that period and significantly lags behind the overall market. Policy uncertainty driven by the 2020 elections has held back insurance and hospital stocks, while pharmaceuticals manufacturers have struggled with slowing top-line growth and clinical-trial disappointments.

Medical-device stocks, however, have been a significant bright spot. Cardiovascular specialist Edwards Lifesciences has rallied nearly 50% so far this year. Stryker Corp. , which focuses on orthopedics, is up about 35%.

There are good reasons behind the outperformance. Important technological advances in diabetes care have buoyed sales for Abbott Laboratories ABT +0.24% and DexCom, while breakthrough clinical data in noninvasive heart-valve replacement from earlier this year has lifted Edwards and Medtronic. Large companies with double-digit sales-growth rates aren’t hard to find in the sector.


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Cancer Is Still Beating Us – We Need a New Start

By Azra Raza (WSJ)

I have been studying and treating cancer for 35 years, and here’s what I know about the progress made in that time: There has been far less than it appears. Despite some advances, the treatments for most kinds of cancer continue to be too painful, too damaging, too expensive and too ineffective. The same three methods—surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy—have prevailed for a half-century. Consider acute myeloid leukemia, the bone-marrow malignancy that is my specialty. AML accounts for a third of all leukemia cases. Currently, the average age of diagnosis is 68; roughly 11,000 individuals die annually from the disease. The five-year survival rate for diagnosed adults is 24%, and a bone-marrow transplant increases the odds to 50% at best.

These figures have hardly budged since the 1970s. The overall rate of cancer deaths in the U.S. has fallen by a quarter since its peak in 1991, translating to 2.4 million lives saved—but improved treatments are not the primary reason. Rather, a reduction in smoking and improvements in screening have led to 36% fewer deaths for some of the most common cancers—lung, colorectal, breast and prostate. And for all those gains, overall cancer death rates are not dramatically different from what they were in the 1930s, before they rose along with cigarette use. Meanwhile, cancer drug costs are spiraling out of control, projected to exceed $150 billion by next year. With the newest immunotherapies costing millions, the current cancer-treatment paradigm is fast becoming unsupportable.

What we need now is a paradigm shift. Today, the newest methods generating the most research and expense tend to be focused on treating the worst cases—chasing after the last cancer cells in end-stage patients whose prognoses are the worst. We need instead to commit to anticipating, finding and destroying the first cancer cells. We must reliably detect the faint footprints of cancer at the beginning and stop it in its tracks. Such prevention represents the cheapest, fastest and safest alternative to the terrible, longstanding treatment trio of slash, poison and burn. It’s the most universally applicable way to save lives, and the estimated cost savings from early diagnosis add up to over $26 billion a year, more than any other new approach can promise.

Earlier detectio n is also the most humane way to improve cancer outcome s. Status quo treatments—the combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for solid tumors, or chemo and bone marrow transplants for liquid ones—can be brutal and indiscriminate killers. Treatments often leave patients in agony, while providing mere months of added survival. The new immunotherapies can be even more dangerous and harsh. Patients have to be treated in intensive care units, and entire industries are sprouting up just to control the deadly side effects.
I’ve experienced the pain of this situation from the other side of the hospital bed. My own husband, a leading oncologist himself, survived one cancer at the age of 34 and became convinced that he was destined to die young, suspecting every stray blemish of beingmalignant. When a swollen lymph node appeared in his neck in February 1998, he suspected the worse. At first, we were relieved to find it was only a lymphoma and not a much more terrifying metastatic appearance of his previous cancer.
But the treatments we gave him caused his immune system to collapse. His weight went down to a mere 139 pounds from 210, and his face became disfigured by lesions and paralysis. At our daughter’s eighth birthday party, I found him hiding in a bedroom. “What’s wrong?” I asked?


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Toronto researchers study how eyes may be window into brain disease

By Wency Leung

Toronto researchers are testing a technique they say has the potential to be a painless, easy and economical way of identifying the growing number of individuals affected by the neurodegenerative disease – one that consists of a simple eye exam.

Using a specialized camera and software that analyzes how light reflects off the back of a person’s eye, they believe they may be able to detect patterns specific to Alzheimer’s disease even before symptoms develop, including signs of the presence of amyloid, a toxic protein characteristic of the disease.

“Changes in the brain are also visible in the back of the eye,” said Sharon Cohen, behavioural neurologist and director of the Toronto Memory Program, which is testing the retinal scan. “The cells in the brain are mirrored in the back of the eye. The blood vessels in the back of the eye are also similar in characteristics to what’s going on in the brain.”

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Canada seen poised to lead world in food production if we can seize ‘fourth agricultural revolution’

By Naomi Powell.

Were the need to arise, Brian Tischler could simultaneously sip coffee in a café in Vienna, Austria while using his smartphone to steer a tractor across his 2,500-acre farm in Mannville, Alta.

Tischler, 55, is the inventor of AgOpenGPS, an open source software for autonomous tractors that has been downloaded thousands of times by farmers located in places as far afield as Lithuania, Africa and South America. It’s a contribution that has won accolades from media and industry associations alike.

Yet when it comes down to the business of farming, Tischler is quick to shrug off its importance.

“It hasn’t really improved productivity on the farm, and it hasn’t allowed me to relax because I still have to keep an eye on it,” he said. “It’s a lot harder than we think to apply technology to farming in a way that truly helps farmers. That’s the challenge.”

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The mental health costs of building a new business

By Jonathan Moules.

David Baird became an entrepreneur because he wanted to do something positive. But he had no idea how high the cost to his mental health would be. He launched Selocial — an online community to support artists and musicians like himself — in 2014, bootstrapping the operation until it had a few thousand members. But the pressures of building a business left him stressed and unable to sleep, factors he believes contributed to the collapse of his first marriage. It even led to him living out of his car for a couple of months. When he eventually saw a doctor, he was diagnosed with chronic depression. “People like me are afraid to talk about this because they think their peers will think badly of them,” Mr Baird says. “You have to have this positive attitude all the time.”

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KKR fund scouring Canadian tech scene for investment opportunities, but they aren’t alone

By Barbara Shecter

U.S. buyout specialist KKR & Co. is actively making the rounds of tech hubs in Toronto, Waterloo and Vancouver, in the hopes of scoring the first Canadian investment for its Next Generation Technology Fund.

The New York-based firm is “actively looking at a handful of investment opportunities in Canada,” Dave Welsh, who leads the technology, media and telecommunications growth strategy within KKR’s private equity platform, told the Financial Post in a recent interview.

Welsh declined to provide details about which segment or segments of tech the private equity firm is exploring, or the size of a potential investment in a company — other than to say the sweet spot for the fund’s investments is between US$70 million and $150 million.

“KKR is spending time getting to know them because the firm strongly believes they are the types of businesses with which we would like to build long-term partnerships,” Welsh said.

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CEOs in Health Care Discuss Challenges of Artificial Intelligence

By Joseph Walker, Peter Loftus and Brianna Abbott

Technology is reshaping health care, from pharmaceutical research to detecting opioid addiction, but the magnitude and pace of change isn’t always as dramatic as some had hoped a few years ago, industry leaders said at The Wall Street Journal Health Forum on Tuesday.

Novartis AG Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan said that for now, the opportunities presented by artificial intelligence are on the margin. “It’s another tool in the toolbox,” he said.

Doctors, insurers and drugmakers are experimenting with digital technology at a brisk pace after years of watching from the sidelines as ubiquitous internet access and smartphones disrupted nearly every other sector of the economy. They hope automation and data-driven predictions can create new efficiencies in an industry that contributes nearly 18% of U.S. gross domestic product.

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Why home health care is the next great business in Canada

By Jon Hansen – MAY 15, 2018

According to a World Economic Forum white paper, depending on the year you were born your life expectancy will be anywhere from 85 to 103. In fact, if you were born in 2007, you have a 50-percent chance of living to the ripe old age of 104. Is it any wonder home health care is a growth industry?

Of course, there is another side to consider with this newfound windfall of years, which is the quality of an extended lifespan. More specifically, and beyond financial considerations, health.

A longer life doesn’t automatically equate to better living. Especially given the fact that the Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that three out of five individuals aged 20 and older currently suffer from a chronic illness, with four people out of five at risk of developing a chronic condition.

While these statistics may cast a shadow over the bright horizons of a longer life, there is no need to stay in bed and hide under the covers for the next 40, 50 or 70 years. With the rapidly growing home health care industry, which provides myriad essential services, managing one’s health has become both convenient and economical.

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Financial Times: Investors urge tech start-ups to hoard cash

By Aliya Ram and Tim Bradshaw – FEBRUARY 2, 2019


VC groups say the slowing economy will make fundraising more difficult.


Venture capital investors are warning their start-ups to hold more cash as worries about the global economy and stock market volatility threaten to trickle down into private tech financings.

“We are certainly telling [entrepreneurs] they need 18 to 24 months of runway right now, to make sure
they can weather any situation,” said Danny Rimer, a partner at Index Ventures.

Just a year ago, Mr Rimer would recommend companies to hold enough cash to cover nine to 12 months’ worth of expenditures and delay raising new funds if they thought they believed they could achieve higher valuations in future. Now, he suggests start-ups seek more capital sooner rather than later, and at more modest valuations.

Ten years ago, Silicon Valley venture firm Sequoia sparked concerns about a tech bubble with a presentation to its entrepreneurs declaring “RIP good times”. Sequoia’s presentation, which was sent out to portfolio companies at the height of the financial crisis in late-2008, warned that any start-up without a year’s worth of cash in the bank could find itself in trouble as the economy slowed.

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