You need robust scientific foundations. What that means is a solid commitment to scientific rigor; you don’t compromise on the science, you follow the science first and foremost, and you are realistic about the limitations of the technology.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Bipin Patel.
Dr. Bipin Patel is CEO & Founder of electronRx, a deep tech team of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers developing novel technologies to sense the physiological environment and inform personalized therapeutic interventions. Dr. Patel is an entrepreneur with over 20 years of biomedical engineering, drug development and commercialization experience. He previously held leadership roles at big pharma like Merck KGaA, GSK and Pierre Fabre.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
So I grew up in the West Midlands in the UK and attended Darlaston Comprehensive School. At 16 I secured a job at a local engineering firm specialising in induction heat treatment as a lab technician. This gave me a real jumping off point into science and technology.
But my interest in science and technology was really sparked at an early age. I had a brilliant biology teacher Mr. Roberts whose enthusiasm and passion for science and tech was infectious. It was really a combination of Mr. Roberts’ lessons plus Sir David Attenborough and BBC’s Horizon natural history documentaries that inspired me to become a pharma-biotech scientist and ultimately led me to where I am today!
This inspiration was also fed by a pre-existing interest in the inner workings of human physiology, biophysics and the mechanism of action at the molecular level, as well as a motivation to work hard, succeed, and make a meaningful contribution to society.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Not long after I began working in big pharma, I was given the opportunity to be part of a senior management team working across Japan and America with companies like National Panasonic and Matsushita to build medical devices for use in drug-device combinations around oncology. It was a fascinating learning curve to navigate discussions and business negotiations, in the right way, at the right time across different cultures with different etiquettes, expectations and values.
I remember the fancy restaurants and travel comforts, but I also remember how challenging it was, which meant of course that I could learn so much from it.
The product ended up on the market and I felt so proud to have my name on something innovative that helps to alleviate suffering for people living with cancer. This facilitated my move to becoming an entrepreneur — I was given a challenging opportunity and I was able to succeed, and in doing so make a positive impact on people’s lives. Once I’d tasted what that I felt like, I was never going back!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve met a lot of exceptionally talented people, from professors, surgeons and consultants to savvy business executives, entrepreneurs and inspiring leaders. There are so many people that I have met in the course of my career who have provided me with vital guidance and direction that I am struggling to name just one person!
I suppose my parents played the most pivotal role in my development. They taught me the value of hard work and more than anything they taught me to be humble; to have empathy for other people’s struggles.
One experience that does stand out in my mind, however, is more from recent times. I was fortunate enough to be at a conference and listen to former Presidents of the USA, Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr., on a fireside chat. I was really taken aback by the intellectual prowess, command of detail and depth of knowledge by Bill Clinton around economics and politics; it was colossal. It was really quite a moving thing to listen to and I was consumed by what they were talking about. It reinforced my convictions that scientific rigor and an evidence-based approach to knowledge creation is endlessly valuable to humanity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite lesson I’ve learned in life is: don’t let yourself be blown off track! It can be really easy to lose your way in the face of adversity and very quickly find yourself pursuing something for the wrong reasons; perhaps because it’s easy, rather than the only reason you should work to achieve something; because it’s your passion. As an entrepreneur you need to embody conviction and belief that what you’re doing is right because how else are you going to make others believe in your vision if you have doubts yourself? That’s why pursuing your passion is so important; you can’t fake passionate excitement, it has to be real.
And you also can’t let yourself be blown off track in terms of your values as a person. You need to be someone that even in a stressful situation retains the utmost respect and empathy towards your fellow colleagues, and I think a really important part of achieving that is being humble (my childhood helped with that!) By recognizing that success is a team effort and vocalizing that at every opportunity, in what you say and what you do, you generate a positive culture which your colleagues will be naturally inclined to protect and safeguard because it builds their self-esteem and facilitates their personal growth in an enjoyable atmosphere. If you don’t have these values and motivations to begin with, then I think you’re going to really struggle to succeed.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The first is empathy. I’m an empathetic person, which I believe is such an unrecognized superpower in entrepreneurs, and probably in the business world in general. Not only does empathy for your fellow colleagues allow you to build out very positive cultures which your colleagues will fight to uphold and sustain by securing your success, but it also keeps you focused in terms of your work. If you are driven by a desire to help people, you will naturally seek to understand customer needs, user requirements, patient experiences etc. that will allow you to develop really solid products that can make a real difference.
The second is resilience. Being an entrepreneur can be very challenging, and some days it feels like no one else in the world cares about your idea. But conviction and persistence are key. Pair this with a positive mindset which sees the glass as half full, never half empty, and you have almost all the ingredients to succeed. And I really think resilience is driven a lot by passion, which feeds into conviction, which in turn feeds back into resilience. It’s a self-sustaining mindset really!
And third is probably being a blue sky thinker. As an entrepreneur it’s your job to be able to articulate and sell the big picture, as well as to understand the smaller steps in the roadmap of how to achieve your vision. In electronRx we are constantly thinking not only about the immediate positive impact of our technologies on the lives of individuals, but also how in 5 or 10 years time the technology we are developing will have transformed drug development or our understanding of the pathophysiology of various diseases, and of human physiology in general! The big picture is what resonates with investors and initial partners to you in the early days so you need to be able to articulate that and get it right.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
As we all know and likely experienced, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital health technologies and quashed many pre-existing reservations around virtual care on both patient and provider sides pretty quickly. Already by May 2020, just 2 months after the pandemic began, McKinsey were reporting that 57% of providers viewed telehealth more favourably than before, and 74% of patients reported high satisfaction when accessing care remotely via telehealth.
And as the pandemic-related drivers behind the adoption of virtual and remote care wane, it is becoming increasingly evident that neither patients nor providers want to go back.
For chronic disease patients in particular, they recognize how their quality of life is improved through remote care; no more going back and forth to the doctors on a weekly or monthly basis! Providers too have seen the value that digital health technologies bring by allowing them to access more timely information on their patients’ conditions.
The problem now, however, is figuring out how to build hybrid chronic care management plans that make sense for both patient and provider. This means plans which provide physicians with holistic and timely insight into their patient’s health as and when they need it, in a way that is digestible, streamlines workflows, and also empowers patients to take control over their health while reducing the burden of managing their condition.
As chronic disease becomes the leading consumer of healthcare resources globally, establishing low-cost care management plans is therefore not only important for improving patient outcomes, but also reducing readmission rates in order to lower overall costs of care and secure the sustainability of our healthcare systems.
How do you think your technology can address this?
So our mission statement at electronRx is to “build the interface between technology and the human body that will usher in a new therapeutic paradigm, transforming how we deliver healthcare and treat disease.”
We’re a team of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers who develop novel technologies to sense the physiological environment and inform personalized therapeutic interventions.
Our proprietary machine learning algorithms harness sensors readily available in a standard smartphone to extract medical-grade cardiovascular and respiratory health metrics, with no additional wearable or devices needed.
This capability is built into our customisable symptom and lifestyle tracking app to form FoneDx; a novel remote monitoring tool designed to maximize patient engagement in managing their health and provide physicians with the information, both physiological and patient-reported, that they need to feel confident making care decisions at a distance.
It’s a scalable system, accessible via the patient’s smartphone, which establishes the unique baseline of each individual patient to better identify early signs of deviation from this baseline and enable more timely intervention. It’s been co-developed by patients, for patients, to ensure it’s a data collection tool that engages and empowers them to take control over their own health and lifestyle, and allows them to become more actively invested in compliance with their care plan.
By harnessing the growing preference for and adoption of virtual and hybrid care services, our low cost, low barrier-to-access tool, scalable to 3.8 billion smartphone users worldwide, can help to secure the sustainability of our healthcare systems while also improving quality of life for patients managing chronic disease.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I spent 20 years in leadership roles at biotech and big pharma companies, and it was observing the endless complexity of human physiology that inspired me to form our exceptionally talented team.
Adverse side effects and refractory patient populations are two phenomenons testament to the unique physiology of each individual. As a result, generalized pharmacological medicine will only get us so far in treating disease and improving quality of life across the globe.
However, the advent of AI and machine learning in healthcare seemed to me an opportunity to personalize care to an extent never conceived before; by spreading democratized, exponentially scalable technology to extract physiological data, learn the unique baseline of each individual and more proactively spot deviations from this baseline which indicate illness.
So we now have access, through advancements in digital health technology, to new sources of health data, not to mention the computational power to analyse and extract insights from this data, which brings with it the opportunity to map and unpick the unique physiological signature of every patient.
How do you think this might change the world?
With this information readily available at our fingertips, the potential exists to truly usher in this new therapeutic paradigm that transforms how we deliver healthcare and treat disease. Not only is a truly personalized approach to healthcare possible, but there are indeed wider ramifications for drug development processes and our understanding of the pathophysiology of many diseases.
Take democratizing the ability to measure blood pressure via your smartphone, for example. Blood pressure is the number one most powerful independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally. So by facilitating population health initiatives to identify hypertension much earlier and intervene to lower cases of cardiovascular disease, this would improve quality of life for millions and help to secure the sustainability of healthcare systems worldwide.
This is why working on the frontlines of deep tech discovery is so exciting!
It’s an interesting question. As with all smartphone technology, concerns around privacy exist because the tech is so integral to our lives nowadays. When you pair that with collecting data for healthcare purposes, with healthcare being an intrinsically personal issue, there is the risk that such technologies can be perceived as violating personal privacy.
To counteract this, companies that develop digital health tech should be driven by a desire to help people and alleviate suffering; not just superficially stated in their branding, but rather a deep-seated part of their modus operandi. Every member of the team not only needs to be an expert in their respective field but also driven to apply their skill set to have a real-world positive impact on the lives of others.
I truly believe we have assembled such a team at electronRx and it therefore comes naturally that we take every precaution to ensure our work is not used to harm anyone.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
- You need robust scientific foundations. What that means is a solid commitment to scientific rigor; you don’t compromise on the science, you follow the science first and foremost, and you are realistic about the limitations of the technology.
- Being able to attract exceptional talent is one of the most important skills a founder can have. Your tech is only as good as your people, and it’s a competitive market for talent, so you need to exude a magnetism that convinces highly skilled individuals with lots of options that you can offer them the most. In our company, for example, we have built out an interdisciplinary team, so new candidates are excited by the chance to tackle problems with experts who have different academic backgrounds to them; who they can learn from and grow their knowledge alongside. It means we offer them a collaborative environment of continual learning that others do not, and it makes all the difference.
- Don’t forget that your technology has to serve an unmet need. It can be so easy when you have a bunch of brilliant scientific minds together to get distracted by pursuing the coolest piece of tech, rather than the most useful tech. Keep in mind that even if your cool tech can help in theory, if it’s not tailored to an exact unmet need of the user, in our case the patient, you can end up building tech which simply replaces rather than removes their burden. You need to consider product-market-fit from the start.
- Don’t lose sight of the long-term vision. Use it as a reference point for every decision you make and it will help you to not be blown off track by various influencers who come in and out of the picture in the early days of your company.
- Stay positive and treat every challenge as a learning opportunity. Everyone knows entrepreneurs need to be resilient and determined, but they also need to be receptive, and that will lead you to become an even more resilient leader. If a VC rejects your pitch, never be too proud to ask for feedback. You owe it to your team!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
When you are motivated by the idea of making a positive impact on our environment or society, your hunger to succeed will be greater than others motivated by less meaningful incentives. It can propel you to achieve things others never thought possible, because you understand the superior importance of your goal.
And the first step towards transformative change is gaining access to education. Education really is the key to unlocking your potential, and if you’re not lucky enough to have access to the top academic institutions, you need to be self-motivated in your pursuit of knowledge until somebody gives you a chance, which if you have demonstrated independent learning, they will!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
It may be an obvious statement, but Bill Gates and Elon Musk are exceptionally talented people with unparalleled vision. They are experts at execution and have literally turned dreams into reality!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We’re constantly publishing new content providing a rigorously scientific, unbiased perspective on our various areas of activity which are a really helpful and informative guide to the digital health landscape. They can also receive our monthly newsletter by getting in contact with our team!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.