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The Berlin-Brandenburg capital region is home to the perfect ecosystem for digital health startups

Digitization in the healthcare sector already has a firm foothold today and recently received a further boost from the Corona pandemic. Berlin has become a hotspot for the scene in recent years, and new players are joining in all the time. Numerous research and development projects are being carried out, innovative digital health start-ups are founded every month, and new initiatives are being established. Berlin has thus become one of the leading healthcare locations in Europe and will be able to make an important contribution to the healthcare of the future due to its special ecosystem.

But what will the healthcare of tomorrow look like? One thing is clear: health apps, smart watches, electronic patient records, digital health applications (DiGAs), digital care applications (DiPAs), e-prescriptions and artificial intelligence (AI) in hospitals, e.g.: the networked operating room, the connection to the digital infrastructure of hospital information and practice information systems or the video consultation with a doctor:in from home, will become the standard.

Demographic change is not only increasing the need for doctors, nurses and health managers, but also for pharmaceutical and medical products. In an aging society, there are fewer qualified young people, but more and more people who are dependent on help. At the same time, these challenges offer enormous potential for digital health solutions.

Supported by legislators with measures such as the Secure Digital Communications and Applications in Healthcare Act of 2015 (E-Health Act), the Digital Care Act (DVG) from 2019, the Hospital Future Act (KHZG) from 2020 or the Digital Care and Nursing Modernization Act (DVPMG) which came into force in the middle of this year, the German healthcare sector is developing into one of the most dynamic economic sectors with a high level of innovation and considerable economic significance.

Berlin – the hotspot for digital health

Numerous key players driving the digitization of healthcare are represented in the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region. Berlin is considered one of the most attractive life science and healthcare locations in Europe with a comprehensive portfolio of companies, research institutions, clinics, service providers and established networks. The region’s strength lies primarily in its unique research and clinical landscape, as well as in the close networking between research, clinical and industry players.

With more than 600 biotech, pharmaceutical and medtech companies and 130 hospitals, the region is also an important hub for the life sciences, including a growing number of IT companies focused on the healthcare market. This environment provides ideal conditions for the development, evaluation and commercialization of innovative digital health solutions. To which the proximity to policy and decision makers can be advantageous.

Start-ups meet Grown-Ups

In addition to industry giants such as BIOTRONIK, B. Braun Melsungen AG, Bayer AG, Berlin-Chemie AG, Berlin Heart GmbH or Cerner – among others – with headquarters in the capital region, numerous start-ups have been founded in recent years. The German capital region is already home to more than 150 digital health startups, and the number is growing every year. They develop mobile apps and wearables to support patients with chronic diseases, mental illnesses or with regard to prevention. In addition, they make an enormous contribution to patient empowerment and self-management, as well as relieving the medical profession enormously. State-of-the-art technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data, as well as highly innovative sensor technology, are accelerating new applications in patient monitoring and diagnostics.

According to Expert:innen, only one out of ten start-ups manages to be truly successful. Ada Health is now certainly one of the best known, even beyond state and national borders. Ada is a pioneer with its symptom-tracking app, which offers laypeople recommendations for action. Ada itself does not make any diagnoses, but can point out possible causes for the symptoms and thus also support doctors in making a diagnosis. Just this year, Ada has raised $90 million in funding. Vara Healthcare – an AI-assisted software for breast cancer diagnosis is also designed to assist radiologists. The spin-off of company builder Merantix AG received €6.5 million in Series A funding in 2020 and is Germany’s first CE-certified risk class IIb AI platform. Doctolib, with German headquarters in Berlin, has also managed to establish itself as an appointment booking platform in medical practices. Last but not least, the allocation of vaccination appointments due to the Covid pandemic once again led to increased implementation and use. Other digital health startups on the road to success in the capital region include Clue, KRY, Heartbeat Medical, Cara Care, Lindera, Mediaire and Selfapy, to name a few.

The dynamic startup ecosystem in the region is highly self-organized and offers young pioneers a wide range of events such as meet-ups, seed camps, hackathons and formats such as the Barcamp Health-IT hosted by Cluster HealthCapital or Treffpunkt Medizintechnik. In addition, more and more global players and Berlin-based companies are seeking contact with startups to develop new digital products and methods for the healthcare market. Berlin is home to a large number of accelerators and incubators, many of which are focused on the healthcare sector. Many large companies have launched their own programs here to enable partnerships in digital healthcare. Most notable here are Bayer’s G4A Accelerator , Pfizer Germany’s Berlin Healthcare Lab , Roche’s RoxHealth and Novartis’ Biome. In addition, start-up centers have been established at numerous colleges and universities, such as the Berlin Start-up Incubator of the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR) and the Beuth University of Applied Sciences, or the BIH Accelerator of the Berlin Institute of Health of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin. In addition, there are other independent incubators and accelerators such as the Vision Health Pionners or the Grace Accelerator. The helios.hub of the hospital operator Helios Kliniken GmbH also offers founders and start-ups a platform for innovations, and the company Flying Health accompanies national and international start-ups in the implementation of sustainable strategies for the healthcare market.

Funding and financing

A large number of private and public investors complement these offerings with various support options, such as mentoring and coaching on the topic of funding and financing , which reinforce the immense potential in the Berlin-Brandenburg region. In addition, there are numerous public funding programs, such as the GründungsBONUS, the Innovation Assistant, the Transfer Bonus or the ProFIT program, where young companies can apply for grants for their research and development projects.

According to an analysis by EY, there was once again particularly brisk activity in start-up financing in Berlin in 2021. This report also shows that the federal capital was even able to extend its lead over the other federal states. According to the report, the number of financing rounds in Berlin climbed by 74% to 263, and the investment volume even more than tripled from EUR 1.2 billion to EUR 4.1 billion. The other federal states follow at a great distance.

Forward-looking projects at international level

Telemedicine and electronic networking between players in the healthcare system are among the most important topics being actively promoted in Berlin-Brandenburg. Particularly with regard to networking between metropolitan regions and rural areas, Berlin-Brandenburg offers enormous potential for exciting projects in the field of telemedicine. In recent years, several internationally acclaimed telemedicine studies, such as the Fontane Study or CardioBBEAT, have been conducted in the region, which have led not only to scientific knowledge gains but also to the development of market-ready telemedicine products by industry partners. Based on the Fontane Study, Telemed5000 aims to develop an intelligent system for the telemedical co-management of several thousand cardiological risk patients. In addition, the 5GMedCamp project is developing and testing a 5G-based continuous vital signs transfer in combination with an AI-based clinical decision support system. The focus is on the telemedical support of patients after implantation of a permanent left ventricular assist system (LVAD). With its basic research, this project also aims at the initial application of a 5G campus network in the healthcare sector. But it is not only the Charité that is dedicated to testing a 5G networked campus; there is also a lot going on in Cottbus in this area. The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is funding the Thiem5G project with around 3.7 million euros, in which the Carl Thiem Hospital Cottbus (CTK) is to be developed into one of the first 5G hospital networks in Germany. The 5G network is the cornerstone for CTK on its way to becoming a “smart hospital.” The city of Cottbus, the Carl-Thiem-Klinikum gGmbH in cooperation with Thiem-Research GmbH, the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute and the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg are working hand in hand in the consortium here. In the process, the patient’s path into and through the hospital is being considered and digitized.

Another focus is the development and use of Big Data technologies in medicine. With the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), which specializes in precision and systems medicine, or the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Engineering (HPI) in Potsdam, the future is being shaped here at an international level. In addition, the Berlin Institute for the Foundations of Learning and Data (BIFOLD) should be mentioned, which offers a broad spectrum of research topics as well as a platform for interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange with the natural sciences and humanities, industry, start-ups and society. In addition, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DKFI) also has a location in Berlin.

The key players all together

The capital region is also characterized by a diverse range of events and trade fairs such as the World Health Summit, Charité BIH Entrepreneurship Summit, BIONNALE and DMEA, Europe’s most important trade fair for cross-sector digital networking in health. In addition to parliament, government and federal agencies, associations for business and science are also based in Berlin. In September 2021, the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence opened in Berlin to advance global health issues at the site and provide the world with better data, analytics and decision-making to detect and respond to health emergencies. With its proximity to federal ministries, embassies and organizations, the capital provides valuable access to decision-makers in research and development, manufacturing and distribution.

The central point of contact and coordination for all issues relating to the healthcare industry in the capital region is the HealthCapital cluster management. At the interface between business, science and hospitals, the cluster management promotes networking and technology transfer and supports companies interested in setting up operations in the region. Responsible for the cluster management are BerlinPartner and the Brandenburg Economic Development Corporation (WFBB).

About the authors

Dr. Susann Kleinsimon and Katharina Repp work for Berlin Partner für Wirtschaft und Technologie GmbH in the field of healthcare management and are responsible for medical technology and digital health. Their main focus is on the networking of science and business, innovation management, and the support of R&D projects and start-ups. In addition, they initiate various crucial formats such as the “Barcamp Health-IT” as well as the “Treffpunkt Medizintechnik”.



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