Since then, the two-year-old Singapore-based digital health startup—which created an app to measure sleep, gait and migraines —has made significant inroads into the digital health market in several countries. It also actively providing information and insights to pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to improve patient care and understanding of diseases.
We speak to Healint’s Founder, Francois Cadiou – who has extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry – and delve deeper into the company’s origins, the pain points it’s curing, what’s in the pipeline, as well as his grand ambition for the company.
What spurred you to create Migraine Buddy?
When I was working in the pharmaceutical industry, I noticed that there was a disparity in the perception and the needs of the patient between the pharmaceutical companies and the patients.
This reduces the performance of the pharmaceutical companies and increases the costs of the drug at the same time. They [pharmaceuticals] are spending more time to develop the right drugs. It also takes more time for the drugs to arrive at the market or even get the new drugs to be properly reimbursed by insurance.
When my father had a stroke, I was studying at INSEAD. I had to search for him for three days. Nobody knew where he was, he could have even died. So I thought to myself, “Ok that’s it, this time I will take what I’ve learnt, observe and work on solutions that would make the healthcare system more efficient”.
But why did you choose to focus on migraine?
The medical knowledge in that space could still use heaps of improvement. The brain is very complex, it’s as complex as the universe.
In addition, the new drugs for the central nervous system are extremely expensive. It takes longer than other drugs to approve.
Based on the clinical studies I’ve researched, I discovered there was a big need to improve the way we gather the information [on migraines]. There’s still no way to properly measure the pain and compare between patients because it’s all self-reported and it’s based on experience – which might not be accurate.
How does Migraine Buddy solve this pain point?
First, we help in gathering real epidemiology data. We compile a database of the experiences of different patients in different countries—such as their reaction to certain drugs—through the app.
Then, with their authorisation, we can have studies where we can collaborate with the neurologist or pain specialist to improve in the care and the choice of treatments.
The local hospitals help us a lot in designing the kind of datasets we should be seeking. We have had great feedback from US patients; telling us it is helping them to get an adjustment in their treatment or ease their reimbursement process by health insurance. It is also helping reduce the asymmetry of information [among different healthcare organisations].
We think it’s better than medtech/healthcare wearables because it is less cumbersome. Users might forget to set it the sleep mode or leave it at out after exercising as opposed to a smartphone, which you will keep with you all the time.
What are the variables used to take the measurements?
The app instructs the patient to select a wide variety of variables such as the pain intensity, triggers (such as alcohol consumption, stress, physical exertion and, oddly enough, consumption of aged cheese), and sleep patterns.
We then complement it with other data, for example the weather, the DNA of the person, the MRI of the person. The key point for us is to choose an objective we can reach.
It’s already a big leap forward compared to what is being done today, which is basically filling in questionnaires while visiting doctors. We measure trends instead of one-off measurements such as ECG or based on patients’ memories.
The challenge here today is to gather the right data to make a well-informed decision.
What are some of the challenges you faced when developing the Migraine Buddy app?
Utilising the phone’s sensors to measure how long the patient slept, as well as developing the machine-learning algorithms to take accurate measurements.
In which markets has Migraine Buddy seen the most positive traction?
So far, our largest user base resides in the US. Our second largest user base, Japan, is also growing very well; there’s a big need there and we have already translated in Japanese.
I would also like to add that although one might think that our app is targetted towards the elderly, the average age of our user is actually 30. We even have kids at age four using the product.
Why is the Japanese market so receptive to Migraine Buddy?
Well, in terms of needs and in terms of access to neurologists, it’s the second biggest after the US. I know very well because I worked there [Japan] for eight years. There is a lot of enthusiasm for everything related to AI, which includes healthcare. So it fits very well with what we do.
Through some search optimisation options, and its presentation in the App Store, patients were able to find it easily. And Japanese patients are the stickiest patients we have.
How big is your user base and what is its growth rate?
We have about 150,000 users, of which three per cent are active promoters. It means they are suggesting to other people through Twitter and Facebook. We have seen 44 per cent month-on-month growth since the beginning.
Any plans to raise additional funding in the near or far future?
As you know, at the beginning of the year we had our seed round. Now, we are preparing for our Series A, which we will use to expand our business models.
Before this, however, we are also doing a bridge round this October. Healint is growing faster than planned; increasing our burn rate. I had the choice between slowing us down despite the traction, do everything as planned, or open a bridge round to go even faster.
How will Healint generate revenue?
I come from a country—France—where healthcare is free. We want to create a revenue model that is most positive for the patient; that means enabling them to decrease their healthcare costs. We rather give them access to services that they lack.
For example, if a patient previously had no access to neurologists, we want to be able to connect him or her with our neurologist through a paid added services option or an additional analysis. And these will all be available through in-app purchases.
In my home country, healthcare is free. So I believe good healthcare should be nearly free. Once that is implemented, it is all about finding the right economic model which can give you the resources to do more.
What’s in the pipeline for Healint’s technology?
We want to improve our weather data algorithm. As you can see in Singapore, more haze leads to more migraines.
In terms of research, we want to increase collaborations with other healthcare organisations. We have requests from researchers all over the world to provide support through our platform, algorithms and data. We will announce further partnerships in the US and Europe in the near future.
Ultimately, we want to build a global platform with global tools — in the same way that some Danish, Swedish and Estonian entrepreneurs built the Skype technology. They went directly for the world, not Northern Europe. We are the same, we go for the world.
Some countries from Southeast Asia are also on top of our list. We also plan to tackle lupus disease in the future.
How can digital healthcare startups leverage on VCs’ support?
First, focus on people. People are more important than IP, far more important. You want companies made up of people who are honest, hard working and intelligent. Thus you want to seek out VCs who appreciate the same values you hold.
Be bold! Once you have the right people, the companies and the VCs have to be bold. In Singapore, we possess the great possibility to build global companies, with the best talents from Singapore and all over the world.
For Healint; GREE Ventures has been a great source of support. Being able to leverage a big VC brand helps in recruitments and partnerships when you go to tech conferences.
This article has been produced in partnership with GREE Ventures.
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