The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the way the world operates. Many aspects of daily life have become “digitalized,” including healthcare.
The industry now includes new therapeutic modalities that use digital technologies to replace, complement or augment medical treatments. To explore better this dynamic area of care in France and worldwide in our new episode of Digital Health Interviews, we sat down to talk with Didier Tranchier.
Didier Tranchier: Co-Founder and Program Director of d2a — Digital Pharma Lab — the first independent Pharmatech accelerator that initiates collaborative projects between pharmaceutical companies and pharma tech digital startups. He has strong entrepreneurial experience and used to be an investor in digital startups with a portfolio of more than 30 investments ranging from seed stage to IPO.
Our guest has been in the roles both of an entrepreneur and an investor. So how does he consider himself?
Didier Tranchier: “I am more of an entrepreneur than an investor, but I don’t see any differences between being the first or the second one. As an investor, you see the market and invest your own money, helping people to develop their own companies. As an entrepreneur, you have to solve many problems every single day. “Entrepreneur” is a French word, coming from the Middle Ages, meaning the people who came together to build something new: from a city to a society — and sometimes only new generations will see the results of their hard work. It’s not only about money: it’s more about the vision of the new world and making it real.”
Then we spoke more about Digital Pharma Lab. The list of programs the company proposes is quite large. What are the main ones?
Didier Tranchier: “We started Digital Pharma Lab with the reality that the healthcare system is old in France, but I’m not sure it is much better outside. It still works with papers and forms, and with crowds of people in the waiting room. On the one side, we see a lot of startups: in Europe, about 18% of startups are in digital health. At the same time, 9% of unicorns are in digital health. What we see is that health can be much bigger with the help of digital. And, at the same time, there is a gap between all the needs of digital health and the way you can make it possible with the help of unicorns. Our mission is to help these digital startups to work with pharma companies or medical device manufacturers: the healthcare market is very complex, and it’s better to make cooperation between these firms.
One of our big programs is called Coalition Next. It was created at the beginning of the pandemic. Almost everywhere in the world hospitals closed part of their services, which meant in particular that chronic disease patients couldn’t be diagnosed or treated anymore in hospitals. With some people from public and private hospitals and big health companies, we created this coalition to say: okay, let’s provide a digital solution to solve this problem of the digital patient pathway and continue to help people even during the pandemic. That is how we identify this mini-startup that was deployed in hospitals. We see during the post-pandemic crisis that many people from hospitals want to change their jobs and there is a scarcity of resources. Digital can solve these problems and change the paradigm into the abundance of a such format of services.”
In Digital Pharma Lab startups and hospitals don’t pay any money, just the pharma companies and medical device manufacturers pay for the organization of this cooperation. When they see a need for a digital solution, they pay to create a call for a project and its analysis, and later they also pay for the deployment of the solution.
Didier Tranchier: “Why does it work? The industry should first notice the need to digitalize the patient’s pathway. They have the money to invest in this digital solution because when the system works, it has an indirect benefit for these industries. We know that, especially in France, public hospitals don’t have a large budget, that’s why they are really happy to get digital solutions that can be financed by pharma.”
After that, we came to the topic of the current digital health market in France.
Didier Tranchier: “We are not so bad, but we are not very good. The main thing in France is that everybody is quite happy: we are a rich country, and everything is going well. Before the pandemic, nobody saw the need to transform the system. That’s why at the beginning of the pandemic there was a crisis inside the government even concerning face masks. We got it after six months after the start of the pandemic. And since that time, everything began to change. We needed to adapt to this crisis and this new environment. Now the government is showing the changes in the healthcare system as a priority. The medicians are using telemedicine; they are not perfectly comfortable with it, but they are changing the type of work. The patients are looking for innovations. So everything is changing very slowly, but it started to move. And we see the alignments between the government, hospitals, doctors, and patients to move together.
But we also can see that the medical system is in crisis more than ever: a lot of healthcare professionals moved out of the hospitals. So there’s a need to change the system and use more digital making it perform better. This crisis is just the beginning of digitalization. Once we will digitalize the system, everything will work in another way.”
The question of investments is quite hot nowadays. There are two main types of strategies. The first one says that we are in the middle of an economic crisis, inflation rates are insane all around the world, and the russian aggression against Ukraine is just making everything worse. So right now it’s better to keep the money, either stop investments or slow them down. The other type is saying the opposite. Standard investment options like stocks or bonds reflect the economic problems right now so we’d rather invest in startups and innovations as much as we can. Which strategy makes more sense to Didier?
Didier Tranchier: “Let’s analyze the situation. When everything is changing, it is an opportunity for a startup company to emerge. In the last years, a lot of startups had great investments and high valuations. Now the situation is changing: some valuations are going down, especially for a company that doesn’t give a confirmation for its business model. As for me, it’s just a selection process of the best startups that will become the world champions. If you don’t want to be a part of the game, you can wait. But I think that right now it’s a perfect moment to create a global leader.”
Didier co-founded many companies: as he said, he adores entrepreneurs and problems: “I’ve seen plenty of problems with all my investments, and I love them!”. He told us about an example of the startups he’s invested in.
Didier Tranchier: “One of the startups is called GiamPark. It was founded by a good friend of mine — Djamchid Dalili. We developed an application to measure biomarkers of Parkinson's disease. You just have your mobile phone in your hand — and in less than 20 seconds it measures the tremor of your hand. With the help of a microphone, it gauges the difficulties of your speaking. Now the company has raised some money; we think it will show the impact of the new drugs for Parkinson’s disease.”
Watch more about DiamPark in our next episode of Digital Health Interviews.
And now it’s high time for different kinds of advice from our expert. Let’s start with the question of conversation: what is recommended to startup founders to have more chance to get a response from an investor or a VC?
Didier Tranchier: “Developing your network, and having direct or indirect connections is very important. If you just send an email or a presentation without any context, it is very difficult. Having contact with people is still very important because investment is about the connection between people and face-to-face communication. The best variant is to have the first meeting or to go to the same event.”
As the main healthcare trend to invest in, Didier named Digital Therapeutics (DTx): “The thing that digital can help to cure people is really great. We are working on the reimbursement of digital therapeutics in Germany, you’ve got a video about DiGA. It is going to be the same in France in a few weeks from now. I think that reimbursement of digital therapeutics is going to be a part of the new digital health market. It is so obvious that digital can have an effect on our health and the relationships between patients and healthcare professionals. So, as for me, DTx is one of the hot topics for today.”
And catch the traditional final hint for startup founders in digital health from our today’s guest.
Didier Tranchier: “Creating a company is about not being alone. You have to start with a team and find some partners who believe in you. The second thing is about making sure that you have people — patients and healthcare professionals — working with you. What is unique about digital health — it’s not like e-commerce where everything is about the process. You have to include people and their emotions in your application or your company. It’s important to create a real mix of cure, digital technology, and emotions.”
Our previous episode was with Wessel Kooyman: Software as a Medical Device
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