AI Applications in Digital Health
Berlin leads the way in developing and piloting artificial intelligence solutions in the hitech health sector.
Berlin is well known for having a long history in the health sector since the 18th century. Berlin is also strong in the very 21st century field of AI. Naturally, these two important fields have made the most of the manifold possibilities the German capital offers to join forces. High tech health solutions gain from the potential for cooperation and collaboration the city offers. There are world class scientific networks and communities as well as superb conditions for startups to find investors and cooperation partners to develop, pilot, and trial products.
In Berlin there are over 100 startups in life science and healthcare, more than 30 research institutes, and 10 digital health accelerators and incubators, not to mention the dozens of clinics, care providers, networks, and government agencies. All in all, ideal conditions for the development, evaluation, and market entry of digital health solutions. The business location center provided by the economic development agency Berlin Partner offers lists of and links to,
- research institutes working on innovative medicine and more
- health IT incubators, accelerators, networks, events, meet-ups, barcamps, seed camps, and hackathons from the startup ecosystem
- state-of-the-art technology applications and startups
Health and digital health, encompassing eHealth and health IT, is a significant cluster in Berlin-Brandenburg, evidenced by more than 600 biotech, pharmaceutical, and medtech companies as well as 130 hospitals in the region.
Digital Health Research Institutes in Berlin
In 2021 the prestigious US magazine Newsweek published a ranking of the “best smart hospitals in the world”, meaning best equipped with modern technology, leading their fields in “their use of AI, robotic surgery, digital imaging, telemedicine, smart buildings, information technology infrastructure, and electronic health records.” Being a US publication, it is not surprising that the focus was on US clinics, but the Berlin Charité university hospital did come in tenth place from a total of 250.
The public-private partnership Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF) has digital health as one of its four central research fields. The Charité, all four Berlin universities, as well as dozens of companies and institutes are actively involved in this project that started out in April 2017. The center, housed in the Robert-Koch-Forum, adheres to the principles of open science and open data, is interdisciplinary, and focuses on the benefit of digitalisation to people.
The Berlin Institute for the Foundations of Learning and Data (BIFOLD) conducts foundational research where big data management meets machine learning. Bifold emerged from the Berlin Big Data Center (BBDC) and the Berlin Center for Machine Learning (BZML), and is, as well as a research institute, a platform for interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange with the sciences and humanities, and industry, including startups. Next to the medical sector, Bifold cooperates with natural sciences, e-commerce, media, and government.
The Hasso Plattner Institute is also strong in digital health, with departments for personalized medicine, connected healthcare, and machine learning in human health. The HPI Digital Health Center is an international player that offers students, researchers, doctors and academics the best facilities to conduct cutting edge research. The current research topics of their teams are described on their homepage.
Digital Health Incubators and Accelerators in Berlin
Get help developing and implementing business ideas for the health market from the big players! Established companies and corporations based in Berlin, including a number of global corporations, know the value of startups for innovations and modern digital products or methods in the healthcare market. There are more than 60 accelerators and incubators in the city, quite a few of which have a focus on the health sector.
- As you can imagine, Bayer’s program G4A, formerly known as Grants4Apps, is internationally well connected. Launched in Berlin in 2013, the program supports digital health startups looking for funding and partnerships in the digital healthcare space.
- Rox Health is in trendy Kreuzberg and focuses on bringing new solutions to where it counts, to the patients, helping founders and startups navigate the regulations of the healthcare sector. The incubator is powered by Roche pharmaceuticals.
- The hospital operator Helios has around one hundred clinics and over two hundred practices treating over 5 million patients in Germany a year. Small wonder their helios.hub is interested in improving services through creative innovations. Startups and fresh projects welcome, with the promise of evaluation of go-to-market readiness.
- Both established corporate players and newbies to the scene such as startups can profit from Flying Health, which provides an ecosystem for “trailblazers” in the sector and offers knowledge, guidance, and a well-connected network. Their mothership Eternity.Health, also in Berlin, is a company builder.
- Publicly funded Vision Health Pioneers is a Berlin based pre-seed incubator for healthcare startups that connects innovators in the sector from across Europe. The nine month program focuses on product-market-fit, so that new ideas really support the needs of doctors, nurses, therapists and patients. Next to the usual incubator benefits there’s co-working space and even equity-free funding.
- People working hands-on in the field often know best what is needed. Employees of the Charité hospital, the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), including researchers, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, have access to the BIH Digital Health Accelerator (DHA). Here they can transform their innovative ideas into solutions directly for patients. For an example, see Aignostics below.
- The young company builder Merantix operates the AI Campus Berlin and develops machine learning startups in various industries. Digital health is an important focus. One of their promising companies is Vara, which raised 6.5 million Euro for its pioneering AI-powered breast cancer screening software.
For more on matters of medicine in Berlin, read our article “Where the future of medicine is being created”.
Of course, never far from hi-tech solutions is the big topic artificial intelligence and machine learning. By 2025, the annual revenue of AI companies in Berlin is expected to reach over 2 billion Euros. Many of these are specifically working on applications in health technology. More on AI made in Berlin in our article “Intelligent machines in a smart city”.
Some Berlin Startups and Companies in the Health Sector
The Ada app assesses symptoms and offers an AI supported analysis. With over 11 million users, the knowledge being built up in Ada’s virtual medical library is considerable, and the AI behind it ever more accurate and powerful. The app works in seven different languages, including Swahili. The AI technology is also available as an enterprise solution. The company, now 10 years old, recently gained series B funding to the tune of 76 million Euro from Bayer and other investors. More about Ada on reason-why.berlin.
Aignostics uses “comprehensible” AI for diagnostics, specifically for solutions in disease recognition, including cancer. Unlike most AI technology, which presents results but not how the intelligent machine reached them, Aignostics shows heatmaps that allow pathologists to recognise how the software came to its conclusions. Basically, the tool highlights visible changes in tissue and algorithms work out the likelihood of that tissue being cancerous or non-cancerous. So while an app like Ada is for patients, Aignostics helps experts in the field by, for instance, automating repetitive routine processes in diagnostics such as TIL quantification. The technology draws on research from Fraunhofer Society, the Charité, and the Technical University Berlin.
“Humans are not as good at determining what percentage of tissue is affected by cancer … Our ‘digital colleague’ ... is both faster and more precise when it comes to quantitative analysis,” says Professor Frederick Klauschen, who laid the groundwork for Aignostics.
The company was founded in 2018 and passed through the DHA mentioned above, the digital health accelerator of the Charité hospital and the BIH. At the end of 2020 they gained an investment of 5 million Euro from Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (BIVF), with participation from the High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF) and the Investment Bank Berlin’s VC Fonds Technologie.
Caresyntax gathers specific information such as video, audio, images, device data, clinical, and operational data from surgery and uses the huge volume of data it collects to various ends. One benefit is for surgeons and the care team live during a procedure in the operating theatre, with algorithms that analyse risk factors during an operation and give the doctors help deciding what to do. The software helps even such apparently simple matters as making sure that each surgical instrument has been removed from an open wound. After the op, the data and recordings are invaluable for teaching purposes.
But also the hospital administrators can use the analysed data to become more efficient. Furthermore, medtech vendors as well as insurers can use it to tailor products. Around 4000 operating rooms around the world are outfitted with Caresyntax, feeding the AI that aims to improve hospital processes and clinical outcomes by making work-flows more efficient. The company has implemented automation and analytics solutions in over 1,400 hospitals in Europe, Asia, the USA, and the Middle East, and have so far gathered data from more than two million operations.
One of the driving forces behind Caresyntax is Björn von Siemens. In his family tree you’ll find some big names in science and business – he is a direct descendent of physicist, physician and “philosopher of science” Hermann von Helmholtz, as well as the great, great grandchild of Werner von Siemens, the German electrical engineer and inventor who founded the electrical and telecommunications conglomerate Siemens. Whether Caresyntax will grow to such proportions as Siemens remains to be seen, but Björn was very happy that in 2021 Caresyntax was able to secure a Series C funding round of 83 million Euro. His company’s headquarters are in Berlin and Boston.
When we asked him where he sees the advantages of Berlin, he answered, “We chose Berlin at the time for three reasons. Firstly, the access to talent convinced us, in this regard Berlin is still the leader in Europe. And secondly there is a strong health industry and associated infrastructure here including leading hospitals in Europe. Another factor was the excellent support we received from Berlin Partner and the team, be it in settling on the site, identifying potential partners, or even participating in trade fairs and much more.”
The first AI-based tool worldwide for the detection of aneurysms, the weakening of arteries, comes from mediaire. The AI-based neuroradiological software helps doctors in dementia, Alzheimer or multiple sclerosis diagnostics and marks a step forwards in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology as used in radiology. By analysing the images of a brain scan, for instance, the report the system produces within minutes can suggest to the radiologist a diagnosis based on the tiniest volumetric changes.
The solution works independently of the hardware used for the actual scanning. Furthermore, “the software is integrated locally into the radiological IT system and requires no cloud upload whatsoever. This ensures the best possible protection of patient data,” says CEO Dr. Andreas Lemke. The principles his software works with can potentially also be adapted to other areas – once they have finished with the brain, mediaire may move on to the spine.
The company was founded in 2018 and received backing from the European Regional Development Fund, HTGF, as well as the Investment Bank Berlin’s programs ProFit and Coaching Bonus. Lemke told #KI_Berlin, “Berlin has become a center for AI development in Europe that attracts experts from all over the world. The high density of innovative and successful start-ups, the proximity to many health care facilities and the good funding were further reasons for us to choose Berlin as the location for mediaire.”
Many of us have a device such as a watch that counts our steps or measures activity. xbird takes that principle further for people with type 2 diabetes. The sensors built into smartphones, wearables, and medical devices capture data streams which xbird’s algorithms and machine learning models process in real-time in order to “detect critical health events before they occur”. Since the artificial intelligence understands the interrelationship between a patient's behavior, their therapy, and their medical condition, it can hopefully improve millions of lives by alerting patients with behavioral recommendations.
As xbird puts it, “Specifically, we aim to automatically classify reasons for past hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia events, predict future similar events and notify patients in real-time so they can take action to prevent them. We use machine learning algorithms to analyze micromovements and other data collected by sensors built into patient’s smartphones and wearables. This data is interpreted and translated into daily activities, special events and location data.”
xbird was founded in Berlin in 2015 and received an undisclosed amount of seed funding over two rounds.
Text: Olaf Bryan Wielk, ideenmanufaktur
Header image: caresyntax OR Showroom, © Caresyntax