SHOWCASE: Artificial Intelligence

Talent to Disrupt

Neha Rajdev : Director, Business Intelligence Neha Rajdev
Director, Business Intelligence
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    Artificial Intelligence and the Disruption of Healthcare

    “France puts healthcare at heart of $1.8B AI strategy” “AI predicts heart attack risk factors from retinal scans” “AI abilities ‘on par with human doctors’” “AI test detects early signs of dementia” “Artificial intelligence revolutionises drug development” “FDA signals fast-track approval for AI-based medical devices” “UK to invest millions in AI development to help with early diagnosis for cancer”

    Twelve months since Coulter:Pulse last explored the latest advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Life Sciences continue to make the headlines with some of the most promising applications of these disruptive technologies. Up on last year’s forecasts, the global market for healthcare AI solutions is expected to increase from $1 billion in 2017 to more than $34 billion by 2025¹. The last 12 months have seen several new “fast-tracked” FDA approvals of AI-based technologies, further cross-industry collaborations and continued interest from VC and corporate investors.

    Last year’s Coulter:Pulse feature, showcased a selection of industry leadership interviews with Benevolent AI, Ada Health and Genomics Medicine Ireland around the application of AI in drug discovery, mobile diagnostics and large-scale population based genome research. Since then Benevolent AI has raised over $115 million in investment, appointed Baroness Joanna Shields, OBE as Chief Executive Officer and partnered with a group of UK charities in the search for a cure for blindness.  Ada Health has since launched a global health initiative to improve the availability and delivery of primary care in underserved populations worldwide, together with project partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Swiss foundation, Fondation Botnar. Genomics Medicine Ireland has meanwhile opened a purpose built state-of-the-art genomic sequencing laboratory at its Cherrywood headquarters in Dublin earlier this year and is undertaking world-class research into major chronic diseases within oncology, neuroscience and immunology that affect hundreds of thousands of people on the island of Ireland and hundreds of millions worldwide.

    With a specialist interest in AI for Life Sciences, our own Senior Consultant, Zdenka Vitkova has this month received the prestigious AESC Future of the Profession Award 2018 from the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants. The award was established in 2015 and is designed to engage the next generation of leaders in executive search and leadership consulting, honouring innovation and leadership skills. Here Zdenka shares her latest observations of the progress of AI in Life Sciences and the talent challenges she is encountering:

    “The successful development and adoption of AI is still very gradual in many fields and in Life Sciences too we face a challenging landscape. Clients are finding that a long-term vision and the creation of meaningful partnerships are both critical to success and new business models are evolving as they rise to this challenge. Access to data and the correct handling of the data to protect those who own it are just two of the minefields that need to be negotiated.”

    Applying algorithms and machine learning to some of the biggest scientific problems, AI has continued to enhance processes across the entire healthcare landscape, but at a varying pace. Diagnostic applications, such as image recognition, are showing the most potential so far for ground breaking advances, with “breakthroughs” publicised in several areas from heart disease and oncology to ophthalmology and CNS. Despite the potential of AI and Big Data analytics to transform clinical trials and shorten discovery lead times, adoption in Pharmaceutical R&D is proving more complex and gradual. Meanwhile predictive technologies have continued to enhance personalised medicine with patient experience and outcomes at the forefront for AI strategists. Augmented Intelligence in healthcare is gaining ground as the benefits of adopting supportive technologies to work alongside, but not fully replace, the clinician, are acknowledged.

    Collaboration, Tech Giants and Investment.

    Last year we reviewed how large industry players, such as GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Amgen, were embracing AI through acquisition or collaboration. Since then the trend has continued across all segments of Life Sciences and notably among the global “tech giants”.  Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Tencent, IBM Watson, Lenovo and Samsung are just some of the large tech players shaking up healthcare through investment and tie-ups in AI facilitated technologies, from drug delivery to tele-medicine. In February of this year, Swiss giant Roche announced its acquisition of oncology-focused data company, Flatiron Health, for a staggering $1.9bn to expand its cancer-care portfolio.

    Investor interest also continues to grow. According to latest research by CBInsights, “AI in healthcare funding hit a historic high in Q2 2018”, and in the private market, healthcare AI startups have raised $4.3B across 576 deals since 2013, topping all other industries in AI deal activity². 2018 to date has seen large funding deals, such as Benevolent AI ($115m, April 2018), Atomwise ($45m, April 2018), Qventus ($30m, May 2018), Zebra Medical Vision ($30M, June 2018), to name just a few. New AI-dedicated venture funds have continued to emerge, with Samsung recently announcing their NEXT Q Fund to provide Seed and Series A financing to startups solving AI problems.

    Addressing the talent challenge

    Coulter Partners continues to build its experience and involvement with many leading proponents of Artificial Intelligence, helping fulfil their senior hiring requirements. A selection of recent work includes the following:

    • Australian based institute for global health with a unique digital clinical “intelligent” disease simultaneous management system for multiple non-communicable diseases (NCDs), utilising sophisticated algorithms – Chief Executive Officer (commercial division)
    • Women’s health provider of a mobile based fertility tracking application, based in Sweden – Head of QARA
    • Histopathology image analysis software provider, for cancer diagnostics and research with AI and deep learning technologies in digital Augmented Pathology – UK Sales Lead, Head of Sales DACH, Head of UK
    • US drug discovery company, using innovative biological science combined with machine learning and deep learning to discover new therapeutic opportunities for rare genetic diseases – CBO
    • UK-based developer of testing software used for clinical trials and diagnostic screening who has recently combined AI technology with cognitive neuroscience – Sales Leader
    • European provider of cloud-based genomics analysis platforms – VP Sales, Chairman & Board Director
    • European life-sciences company leading population-based genome research studies using advanced robotic systems and next-generation sequencing – Five VP-level roles
    • Platform operator building human machine interfaces that combine VR, computer graphics, brain imaging and machine learning – Chief Operating Officer
    • US technology company providing applications and machine learning-based health informatics for remote health and patient management – Non-Executive Director

    Top AI talent is in high demand, and as demonstrated in our 2017 analysis of CEO routes to the top in AI for healthcare (, only a quarter of the analysed dataset brought experience from the pharma, biotech or med tech industries. New industry entrants are competing desperately for the best qualified talent to enable growth in healthcare and are tapping into talent pools across all industries to source these leaders. 2018 for example saw both Google and Microsoft appoint former hospital CEOs to lead their healthcare programmes. The year also witnessed healthcare AI companies hiring from the software industry, telecoms and academia. Our recent CEO appointment at the George Institute for Global Health is a case in point.

    Successful AI adoption across the Life Sciences depends not only on an understanding of the data-science, but also on expertise in clinical, regulatory and patient processes. Leaders need to demonstrate or obtain complementary cross-functional expertise to integrate the AI applications within the scientific and commercial context of the business. Increasingly too, we have observed that creativity, flexibility, emotional intelligence and the ability to “think outside the box” are being viewed as of comparable importance. Leaders are tasked with creating a climate of cultural cohesion –  by bringing together the best of two very different worlds, one traditionally more conservative and risk-averse vs. one driven by innovation and technological advancement.

    “Via our global networks we are accessing sought after talent to meet the present need for AI and cross-over expertise in Life Sciences. PhD candidates or those with a combination of academic degrees in the deep sciences such as genetics, genomics, molecular biology, physics, as well as bioinformatics and mathematics are currently in the highest demand,” adds Zdenka Vitkova

    The Next Generation

    Training the next generation to keep pace with these developments in disruptive technology is essential, as the industry encounters a significant shortage of data scientists and AI expertise. To address the prevailing “skills gap”, 2018 has seen several more industry-academic collaborations and investments. In October 2018 for example, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced its $1 billion investment in a new college to educate the next generation of AI experts;  Microsoft also announced in the same month, its multi-million pound collaboration with the University of Cambridge to “build up AI and machine learning talent and research in the UK, especially in healthcare”⁴; in November this year it was announced that Innovate UK and industry were to invest more than £17.5 million in the University of Oxford to develop artificial intelligence (AI) healthcare applications.

    Artificial Intelligence and its potential to disrupt remains a significant driver for Life Science advances in many segments. Companies across the sector are competing for the right combination of scientific, commercial and technology skills with other industries that may be in a position to lure the best candidates with irresistible remuneration packages and enticing growth prospects. Embracing a higher mission whose purpose is to make a positive impact on healthcare through innovation is helping the sector attract, recruit and retain the right talent. Having a clear diversity and inclusion stance also helps combat dwindling talent pools caused by high employment, the lure of big salaries elsewhere (IT) and generational demographics. Life Science companies need to stand out from the crowd to attract diverse thinkers, diverse backgrounds and other industry talent, to create a stronger culture that will in turn attract more of the same.

    In this series of The Pulse, Coulter Partners speaks with AI Life Science leaders about their perspectives on industry trends and some of the implications for top-level talent.



    1. Artificial Intelligence for Healthcare Applications, Tractica, Q3 2018
    2. AI trends reshaping healthcare, CBInsights, Oct. 2018
    3. “MIT Is Investing $1 Billion In New College With Computing, AI Focus”, Fortune, Oct. 2018
    4. “Multi-million pound initiative from Microsoft to support AI research at Cambridge”, University of Cambridge, Oct. 2018