Silicon Valley’s next big health investor

The largest Chinese Internet players, Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba all have investment teams in Silicon Valley and other U.S. tech hubs.

But Tencent in particular has set its sights on health care, the U.S’s fifth largest economy, say people familiar. The company is motivated in part by the health care problems in China, which include a shortage of doctors and high rates of some cancers.

China is expected to have over 800,000 lung cancer cases by 2020 on account of pollution and high smoking rates. It also has more people living with Alzheimer’s disease than any other country.

“The health care problems in China are huge,” said Ted Driscoll, a Silicon Valley-based medical investor with the Chinese investment firm Decheng Capital. “They (Chinese investors) are interested in any start-ups that have a novel way of dealing with it.”

Some of these U.S. companies have not yet expanded to China, but others used the investment to build a presence in the country.

One of Grail’s first moves was to merge with a Chinese company called Cirina, founded by notable Chinese scientist Dennis Lo. That deal, if successful, would allow Grail to commercialize its cancer test in both Asian and Western markets.

There’s also a huge interest in bringing artificial intelligence to China, with broad support from the government. AI is viewed by policymakers as a tool to replace some of the tasks typically performed by human doctors, so more people can access the treatment they need.

Walter De Brouwer, founder of Scanadu, recalls that technologies like AI were attractive to Tencent’s investment team.

“How I see it is that in America, we went from paper to e-health to mobile health to AI health,” he said. “In China, they have an opportunity to leapfrog straight from paper to AI.”

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