Queues of people seeking medical aid extended into hospital parking lots in Hong Kong earlier this year while the sick filled hallways and waiting areas.
The memory of the coronavirus pandemic overwhelming public health services looms large for Hong Kong-based start-up Gense Technologies, which is working to ease the pressure on hospitals by making portable imaging devices widely available for at-home use.
“Hospitals are overburdened,” Gense Tech CEO and co-founder Justin Chan told Alizila. “If we can move some of the detection or screening outside of hospitals…then it helps with the burden.”
Gense Tech’s diagnostic tool helps patients detect and manage some of the world’s costliest liver, lung, and kidney diseases with cloud-based devices from the comfort of their own homes.
The coronavirus pandemic has piqued investor interest in healthcare stocks, lifting the MSCI World Health Care index 20.3% last year.
Telemedicine as a sub-sector has taken off during the pandemic as consumers look for accessible and affordable health checkups.
As it stands, citizens regularly wait a month or more to see public sector medical specialists in Hong Kong, while non-urgent cases face at least eight-month delays, according to official data.
In that time, a person could develop a serious chronic disease or worse.
Rather than wait, the at-home diagnostic tool connects to users’ phones enabling people with potential liver disease and other conditions to scan themselves after taking a ten-minute tutorial.
“You can not only save some medical cost in the treatment down the line. It also helps with well-being because quite a lot of chronic diseases are non-reversible,” said Chan.
Developed by a team with 15 PhDs and researchers, Gense Tech’s invention started clinical trials earlier this year.
“We are fortunate to work with quite a lot of professors in Hong Kong, and that certainly helps with the research we’re doing,” he noted.
Along the way, the start-up has picked up more than HK$24 million ($3.1 million) in funding from Hong Kong government agencies, private foundations and other organizations in the city.
While many businesses struggled during the pandemic, Gense Tech benefited from a heightened awareness of public health and disease prevention.
Early-stage investors are taking a closer look globally at healthcare start-ups working towards breakthroughs.
In the first three months of the year, of the 4,189 venture capital funds on the road with a combined fundraising target of $327 billion, healthcare was the second largest group after tech among sector-focused funds, according to data provider Preqin.
Gense Tech was one of two winners of this year’s Jumpstarter competition, a not-for-profit contest created by the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund (AEF) and sponsored by British bank HSBC. Among the competition entrants, the biggest sectors were healthcare and sustainability.
“We like people with ambition for their business that goes beyond seeking a profitable exit – their company must make an impact,” said Cindy Chow, an Executive Director at AEF.
The start-up recently partnered with Hong Kong authorities to monitor Covid-19 patients in recovery.
Patients can elect to receive the device after being discharged. For the first two weeks at home, they must complete a daily five-minute test, which Gense Tech’s team monitors for any potential health problems.
Roughly 500 patients made use of the devices in the last two years and Chan expects this figure to rise even as the pandemic fades.
The company also rolled out an internal soft-launching program allowing people to order devices for biannual check-ups online.
Gense Tech hopes to expand into Europe and the US next year and it has already applied for regulatory certification in both jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, the start-up is also broadening the range of uses for its devices. For instance, the team is pushing to cover major diseases including breast cancer and heart disease.