• Market & Regulatory Insights
    • Digital Innovation

The promise of AI in healthcare

  • Article

Faster drug discoveries, personalised medical care and early detection of critical illnesses are real possibilities.

Artificial intelligence – more specifically Generative or GenAI – is set to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the healthcare industry.

The transformative power of that technology is likely to ring in a future where new drugs would be discovered a few years earlier, patients receive drug dosage and affordable care that is tailored to their specific conditions and needs, and survival rates improve as some critical illnesses are diagnosed sooner, and at an affordable price.

These are some changes that are waiting to happen, with healthcare companies and regulators moving ahead cautiously to ensure that the technological developments currently under way are safe for the patients, according to an expert panel at the HSBC Global Investment Summit.

Personalised care

Much like anyone in the world can get an individualised service from a mobile phone app, with GenAI, “for the very first time, we have an opportunity to have true personalised medicine for everybody,” said Dan Vahdat, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Huma Therapeutics.

Gen AI can also create more efficiencies in the healthcare industry by freeing up doctors and nurses – who, he said, currently spend more than 70% of their time filling forms, writing medical notes and gathering patient information – from such repetitive tasks.

By allowing these medical professionals to look after more patients in less time, GenAI is “freeing up lots of time and resources, so clinical people are able to spend time to be more proactive and predictive about the care of patients, rather than be reactive,” Mr. Vahdat said.

Huma currently has a cloud platform that enables the launch of a disease management programme, allowing nurses to make the right decision on the unique needs of specific patients, such as the right dosage of a particular drug, regardless of their whether financial status and geographic location.

“Technically speaking, we can already start suggesting this,” he said. “But we are taking cautious steps and working with regulatory bodies to ensure that our suggestion is safe for the patient.”

Mr. Vahdat said that while healthcare systems are very different in different places, GenAI can also “play a very big role to harmonise the consistency of the care pathway,” through personalised medicines.

Errors made by GenAI can be reduced by putting in place the right guardrails and tuning the systems, and having a human being overseeing the output, he said.

Faster drug development

New drug discovery – a process that often takes several years and many millions of dollars in research and development to bring a new treatment to market – is another area where GenAI is being seen as a transformational force, by helping drug technology companies to design the molecular structure of a target drug using GenAI.

Nisa Leung, Managing Partner of Qiming Venture Partners, cited the example of its investee company Insilico Medicine, an AI-driven Drug Discovery company (AIDD) and an early mover in a space where AI is used to identify and design target molecules to treat illnesses.

In 2022, Insilico entered a research collaboration with Sanofi worth up to US$1.2 billion, to advance drug development of up to six new targets using Insilico’s AI platform1. One drug, to treat lung fibrosis, is currently undergoing Phase II clinical trials – typically conducted to identify drug efficacy in a small sample size of patients – in both the US and China2. Insilico has another 30 drug candidates in its pipeline, she said.

If the clinical data show that the drug works, “this will start to prove to the world that maybe AIDD can help expedite drug discovery,” Ms. Leung said. “Maybe we can reduce the drug discovery time by years, to maybe months.”

Affordable, early disease detection

However, discovering new drugs using just technology is unlikely to result in success.

“You really need a healthcare specialist on the team, especially since healthcare is such a regulated sector, be it on the device side, drug discovery, or services,” she said.

Ms. Leung predicted that health monitoring could see big changes over the next ten years, and possibly replace many of the regular tests currently conducted in annual health checkups. Gen AI can also be more accurate in detecting illnesses that may be missed by human beings. The advances being made currently should be able to help detect illnesses including cancer, Alzheimer’s and neural diseases much earlier.

“One of the things that we are hoping to develop is a HK$200 early detection test for Alzheimer’s,” she said.

HSBC Global Investment Summit

The inaugural HSBC Global Investment Summit took place on the 8 to 10 April 2024 in Hong Kong, bringing together over 2,000 delegates to discuss the global trends and topics shaping our world.

Need help?

For more information, please contact your HSBC representative.