Recently Lux was invited to join a panel discussion at the Asia Healthcare Conference 2021. This is a yearly event that focuses on key healthcare topics relevant to Asia. The weeklong event featured various panels ranging from the investment landscape to supply chain and regulatory affairs.
We were joined by senior executives from the pharmaceutical, investment, and healthcare informatics industries to share views about Asia's health tech landscape. Besides healthcare innovation, topics that elicited a lot of interest from the audience were cybersecurity and data privacy.
In this blog, we highlight key takeaways from this year's event in each of these topics – healthcare innovation, cybersecurity, and data privacy.
Healthcare innovation will continue to be driven by decentralization in the near term.
Panelists were unanimous in their view of the increasingly prevalent innovation trend that is leading to a decentralization of care. In fact, it was noted that this may be increasingly the case in Asia. This is due to a double-whammy situation of a critical shortage of healthcare infrastructure and personnel, coupled with a rapidly growing middle-class population with shifting expectations of health services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified this situation, with challenges seen in India and other parts of Asia suffering from repeated waves of COVID-19 outbreaks. While there are many interesting technologies that have emerged from Asia that align with this trend, panelists shared examples of digital therapeutics in India, such as Wellthy Therapeutics and wearable kidney dialysis systems developer AWAK Technologies from Singapore.
Health IoT devices are hard to patch due to regulatory constraints, but guidelines are now in place to address this challenge.
While security patches are often readily made available, some healthcare IT departments appear hesitant to apply these patches. In some cases, this has led to major disruptions in the healthcare system like cyber attacks. An example being the WannaCry ransomware incident in the U.K. However, beyond the standard security considerations to confirm that the patch is not malware or malicious software, even if the patch is legitimate, healthcare IT departments need to work out if the patch modifies the underlying software. If it does, then regulation requires the U.S. FDA to be notified, and if necessary, the patch needs to undergo reevaluation of its clinical performance.
This creates a Catch-22 situation, as the medical device manufacturer itself would advise against any modifications (otherwise, it would not assume responsibility for malfunction of the equipment or adverse outcomes of the product), and the healthcare IT department would now be hesitant to apply the patch should it modify the equipment, with no way of knowing until the patch is applied.
Fortunately, the U.S. FDA is aware of this conundrum and outlined guidelines that empower both providers and device manufacturers to act quickly to address a cybersecurity vulnerability. This is likely to have a ripple effect in Asia, as most Asian regulators take the lead from North America and Europe in drafting their own guidelines. Healthcare innovators were encouraged to take a security by design approach to minimize room for vulnerability where possible.
Data privacy must consider conservative markets in developing parts of Asia.
Unlike in North America and Europe, many healthcare topics that are relatively more openly discussed with physicians remain taboo in Asia, despite the doctor-patient confidentiality privilege. This is a complex issue that is related to cultural norms, societal perception, and even issues of trust in countries with inefficient healthcare systems. Thus, healthcare innovators developing solutions that address particularly stigmatized topics, such as mental and sexual health, must note that finding relevant and accurate data and insights is challenging.
Companies like Prognoix, from Singapore, that look to tackle the highly stigmatized topic of erectile dysfunction, are in fact considering progressive markets like Singapore, the U.S., Australia, Canada and Europe in the first instance for market validation. Expansion to other markets is also not straightforward, as there are traits unique to different populations, especially in a region as heterogeneous as Asia. This also trickles down to companies looking at genomics and other clinical biomarkers, where topics of brain conditions, infertility, and other sexual conditions must be dealt with delicately.
Interestingly, despite the regional focus of the event, the health tech panel discussion offered few surprises, which goes to show the universality of the key trends discussed. The discussion did touch on a couple of key considerations for Asian markets, such as cultural and biological differences (see our insight on the genomics opportunity in Asia).
However, the other points of discussion were applicable globally, such as cybersecurity considerations and the decentralization of care. Innovation in the healthcare industry will continue to be driven by this macro trend; however, those interested should consider the nuances within different geographical regions, especially Asia.