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One of the greatest achievements of the 20th century was the lengthening of human life. According to official records, in 1901 an average man in the UK could expect to live just 48.5 years. Women fared little better at 52 years. Disease was rife and unchecked, living conditions were poor and hunger was a problem families faced daily. But a gradual increase in living standards, coupled with immunisation and better medical practices, turned things around.
By 2001, men could expect to live until 76, while the average women saw her 80th birthday. Throughout the century, vaccination technology cut down infant mortality and treatments for chronic conditions such as heart disease helped more people reach old age. In 2015, nearly 14,570 British citizens had made it to at least 100 years old – a staggering 65 per cent increase on just a decade before. Life expectancy has increased by about 11 weeks per year since the early 1980s.
Survive or thrive?
This is fabulous news, but longer lives have created new challenges for policymakers and the NHS. An aging population means more chronic conditions and a greater reliance on medicines, hospital beds and care. The troubling situation has created an uneven medical environment in which investment from both the public and private sectors, as well as individuals, is vitally important. Small businesses are innovating, but they need growth capital to thrive.
Despite extra money flowing into the NHS every year, revenue per head is falling as the UK’s population expands as a result of our relative health combined with net immigration into the country. Government money has become a sticking plaster, and only innovation in prevention and treatment can keep all the improvements on track. A new generation of start-ups has taken up this challenge, using big data and the internet of things to improve service delivery.
“We are entering a new age of precision medicine that fundamentally challenges traditional medical care.”
Marisa Miraldo · Imperial College Business School
Marisa Miraldo, Associate Professor in Health Economics at Imperial College Business School, says these innovators could transform the way healthcare is delivered. “Big data analytics and information systems allow us to radically change the supply model. We are entering a new age of precision medicine that fundamentally challenges traditional medical care,” she explains.
“As genomics become more sophisticated, new opportunities open up in our ability to predict, prevent, and intervene. This revolution allows a greater understanding not only of who is at risk of developing diseases, but, above all, it opens the door for the development of innovations that can mitigate these risks and optimise health.”
James Barlow, Professor of Technology and Innovation at the school, agrees that healthtech companies are changing the game at a faster rate than the global pharmaceutical firms that dominated the investment landscape until a few years ago.
“This includes technology to support people with physical, cognitive or sensory impairment that affects their ability to perform common activities of daily living, including robotics, smart homes and devices to prevent falls. There is also technology to promote social connectedness using innovative communication platforms, and telehealth and care to help monitor elderly people,” Barlow says.
Many potentially lifesaving and life-changing innovations are yet to hit the mainstream, and new businesses need money to reach relevant audiences. There is a huge opportunity for investors to back the legion of small businesses and researchers who will provide the next generation of solutions.
Telehealth is one area where new companies are gaining traction. As the availability of hospital beds declines, products and services permitting treatment at home are in demand. Under-pressure GP surgeries also crave breathing space.
Today, patients can see a doctor or consultant via a smartphone without leaving their beds. Doctors can make simple diagnoses and write prescriptions based on observation and available medical records, and health professionals can also make sure patients are taking medicines via video calls. This technology is taking some of the strain off the NHS and empowering people to access treatments and advice on their own terms.
“As the availability of hospital beds declines, products and services permitting treatment at home are in demand.”
Lukasz Rzeczkowski is co-founder of Trustedoctor.com, a service that gives people access to cancer specialists around the world. “We connect cancer patients and their families to the world’s leading specialists to provide an independent second opinion or advice on treatment options,” he says. “Patients create a digital profile and upload documents, medical files and scans to a secure cloud drive and then request a consultation from their preferred doctor, sending them a secure link.
“The doctor can open the link and see in one place all the relevant information to help them decide whether to accept the consultation, or refer the patient onto another specialist. Consultants set a fee for this consultation – although some choose to do it free of charge.”
It’s just one example among thousands in which technology is making treatment more accessible, effective and efficient. Growing businesses are driving change. For their part, investors can help solve one of the 21st century’s biggest conundrums and reap the financial rewards if they back the best.
Asset class Description Q4 performance: Sep – Dec 2016
Equities Buy UK stocks
Buy European stocks
Buy US stocks
Fixed income Sell UK government debt
Sell European government debt
Sell US treasuries
Currencies Sell GBP
Equities Implement developed market smart beta strategies
Buy MIB / Sell IBEX
Buy emerging markets
Fixed income Buy US curve steepener
Long German / Short Italian debt
Buy selected short–dated hybrids and non-rated/high yield bonds
Commodities Buy crude oil
Buy copper/Sell gold
Currencies Leverage EUR volatility
Buy Mexican peso vs USD
Sell Japanese yen vs USD