From new ways to protect against pandemics to ground-breaking approaches to mental wellness, healthcare innovations promise to transform the way we live – and HealthTech startups are leading the way.

Abu Dhabi is an innovation-forward emirate which embraces the value of technology. Today, HealthTech startups in Abu Dhabi are leveraging the power of cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to drive forward the future of healthcare. They are backed by the uniquely dynamic and supportive tech ecosystem of Hub71 as well as a future-facing, engaged regulator, the Department of Health (DoH) – Abu Dhabi.

A time of change

Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and the pandemic has only accelerated industry trends which were already in motion. In a world where face-to-face contact was prohibited, new treatments were needed and resources were stretched, there was huge scope for technology to step in.

“In April 2020 and within just four weeks, the telehealth market accelerated about ten years,” says Viktorija Aksionova, founder and CEO of mental wellness startup MindTales. “Almost overnight, users adopted virtual care.”

Thanks to innovative virtual solutions, including telehealth and home drug delivery, healthcare is now cheaper, more convenient and more accessible.

Dr. Hector Zenil, CEO and director of Oxford Immune Algorithmics (OIA) and creator of precision diagnostics platform Algocyte, emphasises the extent of the challenge that remains, as health services around the world see a shortage of medical staff and as industry attention shifts from disease management, or ‘sick care’, to population wellness, including preventative, precision and predictive medicine.

“To achieve population wellness, we will have to rely on technology and automation, AI and predictive algorithms to responsibly assist medical professionals,” Dr. Zenil explains. “The pandemic has not only made this clear, but it has finally opened up the space to introduce technology into healthcare. Now we have to go deeper and further.”

The power of startups

“The pandemic has reminded us how science and technology are complete game changers when it comes to protecting us from disease,” says Dr. Zenil.

Traditionally, the healthcare industry is one of the most conservative, and it has been slow to adopt the most innovative technologies. As perspectives shift, it will be the role of startups to push the boundaries of healthcare.

Dr. Asma Al Mannaei, director of healthcare quality at the DoH, emphasises this role: “HealthTech startups are at the core of innovation in healthcare – they have the potential to improve the quality of patient care, provide added value and create the future of healthcare,” she explains. “The beauty of startups is their ability to adapt to new challenges. During the pandemic, they were critically essential – whether creating new diagnostic tests, protective equipment or more sophisticated mobile applications.”

One powerful tool that startups are embracing is AI. Trained on large amounts of data, AI uses significant computing power to make rapid, smart decisions which can complement human decision-makers.

“Mental healthcare is often based on trial and error,” Aksionova explains. “But now that we have mobile AI and the internet, we can capture data to see what works and tailor care to become more efficient and personalised.”

MindTales is leveraging AI to improve the quality and accessibility of mental healthcare. “One in four people will develop some kind of mental health issue in their lifetime, but unfortunately just 25% of those receive treatment,” says Aksionova. “There are different issues, including a lack of professionals, social stigma and expense.” MindTales provides a full-stack solution in one digital platform, covering the whole user journey. AI enables the app to make smart recommendations for wellness exercises and counsellor choices.

Algocyte is OIA’s flagship AI product, a health monitoring platform which learns from the user’s health and immune system. “We automate tasks that would otherwise be time-consuming for clinicians and provide both clinicians and patients with the tools to better engage with each other,” says Dr. Zenil. For example, Algocyte allows patients to perform sophisticated blood tests at home and track their immune systems over time, and AI provides recommendations for how to stay healthy.

An advanced ecosystem

“Abu Dhabi has a unique setup where regulators and investors work together with local and international companies,” says Dr. Al Mannaei. “This creates a very exciting healthcare innovation ecosystem.”

Located in Abu Dhabi, Hub71 is designed to empower tech startups to thrive. “The vibrant environment of Hub71, with its support packages, activities and networking, is crucial to the success and growth of startups,” says Dr. Al Mannaei.

Hub71 provides financial support, including housing, insurance and legal fees. On top of this, it has created an invaluable ecosystem of stakeholders, which is nurtured through regular events.

“Hub71 has been a catalyst for our AI team,” says Dr. Zenil. “It has allowed us to build a network of people and to offer incentives to attract and retain high-profile staff. It has also provided a fast route to residency.”

“In Hub71, you get access to key stakeholders quicker than in other countries,” Aksionova adds. “You meet different startups to exchange ideas. It’s a sandbox for your solution.”

In such a highly regulated industry as healthcare, regulator involvement is crucial. As part of Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s DoH is on the ground with innovators.

“As the regulator of the healthcare sector, we are here to enable and support startups,” says Dr. Al Mannaei. “Innovators and startups bring new ideas, so we ensure we provide the appropriate environment to test their solutions. At the same time, we encourage and work closely with our health system providers to adopt the innovative technologies that provide high standards, provided they contribute added value and guarantee patient safety.

“What’s unique about Abu Dhabi is that we offer a 360-degree service for HealthTech startups, from coaching and mentoring to incubation and accelerator programmes. We ensure that we govern and regulate the outcome of the technology and offer true commercialisation opportunities for those startups.”

A healthy outlook

For HealthTech startups operating in Abu Dhabi, the future is bright. The emirate offers outstanding market access globally, including in both Europe and Asia, providing exciting export and expansion opportunities.

MindTales is running clinical trials with five universities in Abu Dhabi, beginning trials with employers and expanding to Saudi markets.

Algocyte has grown from two founders to around 40 employees in four countries. “The future is incredibly exciting,” says Dr. Zenil. “We have the opportunity to revolutionise healthcare and change the world for good.”

As the healthcare industry accelerates into the future, it is clear that HealthTech startups will be at its vanguard, and the powerful backing of Hub71 and the DoH makes Abu Dhabi the ideal location from which to lead the way.