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Startups

Singapore investors plow into health care startups

Patented innovations plus government support make sector highly attractive

Kuldeep Singh Rajput is founder and CEO of Biofourmis, a startup that has developed an AI platform that can analyze data quickly to identify symptoms of heart attacks and other ailments.

SINGAPORE -- Singaporean investors are plowing into startups in the health care sector, drawn by the industry's innovations and strong government support.

Biofourmis, a startup originally from Singapore which recently shifted its headquarters to Boston, is one such example. The company plans to raise $100 million to $200 million in 2021, after bagging $35 million from U.S. investment fund Sequoia India, Openspace Ventures of Singapore and the Singapore government's venture capital arm EDBI.

The company acquired Biovotion, a Swiss maker of wearable sensors that can monitor heartbeat and breathing rates, in November. Biofourmis itself has developed a platform that uses artificial intelligence to analyze data collected by such sensors to quickly identify symptoms of heart attacks and other ailments. The company supplies the platform to major pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis of Switzerland.

With the Biovotion acquisition and funds injected by its investors, Biofoumis' corporate value has been boosted to approximately $500 million.

Another such company that has grabbed the attention of Singaporean investors is Lucence Diagnostics, a genomic medicine company spun off from a Singapore-owned laboratory.

Lucence raised $20 million from investors, including major Malaysian hospital operator IHH Healthcare and the venture capital unit of Temasek Holdings, a Singapore government investment firm. The company already has developed original technology to diagnose cancer through blood tests, and has started an AI-based program to enhance the accuracy of such diagnoses.

Many startups like Lucence in Singapore's health care sector hold patents on technologies they have developed on their own. Protected by high entry barriers, they can map out future growth scenarios more readily than startups in ride-hailing, e-commerce and other high-tech sectors.

In fact, investors have grown more discriminating about investing in tech startups. This forced The We Company of the U.S., parent of shared-workspace provider WeWork, to delay its planned initial public offering in September.

Vickers Venture Partners, a Singapore-based venture capital firm headed by renowned investor Finian Tan, said it invested only in companies that have developed innovative technologies.

While in the process of raising its biggest-ever fund of $500 million, Vickers led an investment of $40 million in Awak Technologies, which developed an ultra-portable dialysis device, in mid-December.

Vickers has established investment bases globally, including Silicon Valley and London. But Tan said investment was increasing in venture businesses in Singapore and other Asian economies.

Indeed, investment in venture businesses remains brisk despite the slowing Singapore economy. The government reported that investment in the first nine months of 2019 increased 36% from a year earlier to 13.4 billion Singapore dollars ($9.89 billion).

Investment in startups seeking to resolve deep and persistent problems by using advanced technologies expanded 25% to S$416 million. According to Enterprise Singapore, a department of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, investments in "deep tech," which includes startups in health care and pharmaceuticals, has been steadily increasing.

Aging populations in Asian countries are boosting demand for health care, particularly in prevention and management of lifestyle-related diseases. 

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