Saudi Public Investment Fund is interested in telemedicine but is UK-based Babylon Health the right digital health company to invest in?
UK-based telehealth chatbot Babylon Health is in the process of securing a $100 million to $500 million investment from Saudi Arabia's state-owned investment fund (PIF), which will lift Babylon into digital health's unicorn club, sources told the Financial Times (FT).
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Babylon's high-profile — at times controversial— platform leverages an AI-powered chatbot to generate diagnoses based on user responses, and pairs patients with providers for telemedicine consultations when necessary. The Saudi investment is part of a larger forthcoming funding round — to be announced as soon as this week — that will tally hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Business Insider (BI).
Babylon's latest cash influx will support the startup's international expansion plan, which it's pursued aggressively over the past year. The funding round should help Babylon establish its foothold in both Saudi Arabia and the US — two markets it's demonstrated interest in.
The startup has secured contracts and partnerships with Chinese tech firm Tencent, South Korean tech giant Samsung, and Canada-based teleco Telus since April 2018.
Babylon was valued at around $200 million and employed 250 staff as of 2017, and now counts more than 1,000 employees and will soon boast a unicorn valuation, FT notes.
But Babylon is likely to hit speed bumps
For example, Babylon will have to battle for customers with Doctor On Demand and Teladoc in the US telemedicine market, both of whom were among the top 10 US medical apps by downloads in 2018.
Some telemedicine companies, like MDLIVE, are also trialing AI-powered chatbots. Moreover, Microsoft recently released a chatbot service that includes services similar to Babylon's, like a symptom checker and the ability to triage complex medical questions.
A lack of conclusive evidence that Babylon's tech is cost-effective may dissuade US hospitals from partnering with Babylon, stymieing US growth.