A leading HealthTech investor expects online care platforms to increasingly “move out into the real world”.

Dr Fiona Pathiraja is founder and managing partner at Crista Galli Ventures, a doctor-led evergreen healthcare fund which invests at seed and Series A level in European HealthTech, deep tech, digital health and personalised medicine.

While COVID-19 accelerated telehealth into the mainstream as the authorities sought to protect staff and patients from transmission, Dr Pathiraja says online care is not a complete substitute for seeing a patient in person.

“The pandemic has driven huge swathes of the population to use online healthcare. From Babylon and KRY to public sector services like the NHS, healthcare is moving online, and patients are starting to like it,” she says.

“However, increasingly startups providing care online will start to consolidate and provide care in real life. They’re beginning to realise that healthcare can’t exclusively exist online. If they want to capture more of the value chain, they will have to head out beyond mobile and into the real world of bricks and mortar.  

“If a dermatology online startup needs to refer a patient for an emergency skin lesion, it is useful to have a clinic you trust where you can send the patient to. If you find fertility issues on blood testing or sperm testing at your startup, it is useful to have a clinic to send the patient for more detailed tests that might require invasive specialist procedures.

“This allows the patient experience to be seamless and allows intervention and minor surgery to be captured by the startup too.”

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Before founding CGV, Dr Pathiraja worked as an NHS doctor for more than 15 years. She decided to turn her hand to investing as she became increasingly frustrated by the lack of innovation in the hospital environment, setting up CGV primarily to help drive innovation from the ‘outside in’. 

With offices in London and Copenhagen, the fund’s £55m portfolio already comprises an array of European HealthTech start-ups. This ranges from the likes of London-based cancer start-up Skin Analytics to radiology tools such as the Swedish start-up Collective Minds Radiology and the Austrian firm Contextflow. 

“Disruption in HealthTech will come from traditional, generalist telehealth services moving from general practice-based models to specialised services designed around specific communities,” she continues.

“Today, individuals and consumers will increasingly seek communities online. Healthcare and patient communities are no different. Startups providing online care are starting to specialise. 

“Examples include Fella, a Y-combinator backed telehealth service for men with obesity; LVNDR, online sexual health services for the LGBTQ+ community; and one of our own portfolio companies, Keleya, an online platform matching pregnant women to midwives in Germany for tele-midwife appointments.  

“Personalisation of health isn’t only about the genome; it is also about services tailored to an individual’s needs.”

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HealthTech’s close sibling MedTech – or BioTech – has seen massive venture capital investment in recent months, only rivalled by that seen in FinTech.

“Previously, cell structures, drug molecules etc were all discovered via scientific enquiry, and this was a very long human-first process,” explains Dr Pathiraja.

“Today, scientists are working alongside software engineers, data scientists, doctors, and biological engineers to use tech to speed up and deepen scientific enquiry.

“The nexus of all these fields is computational biology. It is a rapidly evolving field that is heading over to Europe from Silicon Valley. 

“What’s more, investors are also getting less squeamish about the idea of investing in a wet lab plus AI type companies, where instead of ‘just’ pure AI and software, the company must prove their experiments with live tissue samples/molecules in a wet lab.”