Babylon Health raises further $60M to continue building out AI doctor app

Babylon Health, the U.K. startup that offers a digital healthcare app using a mixture of artificial intelligence (AI) and video and text consultations with doctors and specialists, has raised $60 million in new funding.

The company says it plans to use the new capital to continue building out its AI capabilities, including offering diagnosis by AI (rather than a more simple triage functionality), which is pegged to roll out later this year.

Investors in the round aren’t being disclosed, though the FT cites Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire business family, as a new backer. The company’s previous $25 million round was led by Investment AB Kinnevik, the Swedish listed investment fund. The newspaper also says the new funding gives Babylon a valuation of “more than $200m,” while my sources say this in the right “quarter of a billion” ballpark.

(Update: I’m told the new funding round included participation from NNS holdings, Vostok New Ventures (who put in $22.2 million, and existing backers Kinnevik).

Babylon’s previous investors also include Hoxton Ventures, Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright (co-founders of Innocent Drinks), and, perhaps most notably, Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman, founders of Deepmind, the AI group bought by Google for $500m, who are also advising the digital health startup.

Earlier this year, Babylon starting working with a number of health authorities in London to trial its AI-powered chatbot ‘triage’ service as an alternative to the NHS’s 111 telephone helpline that patients call to get healthcare advice and be directed to local and out-of-hours medical services. It built on top of the same AI-enabled symptom checker feature in the main Babylon app that was released last July and which the company says has provided medical advice to over 250,000 people to date.

However, the more ambitious plan was to move to full diagnosis by AI, which Babylon explains as helping clinicians to accurately identify the disease and the most appropriate treatment. “To achieve this, Babylon has curated the largest knowledge graphs of medical content, and made advances in various applications of deep learning techniques adapted specifically for healthcare,” says the company.

Dr Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon, says in a statement: “Cutting edge artificial intelligence together with ever increasing advances in medicine means that the promise of global good health is nearer than most people realise. Babylon scientists predict that we will shortly be able to diagnose and foresee personal health issues better than doctors, but this is about machines and medics co-operating not competing. Doctors do a lot more than diagnosis: artificial intelligence will be a tool that will allow doctors and health care professionals to become more accessible and affordable for everyone on earth. It will allow them to focus on the things that humans will be best at for a long time to come.”

He also talks up the investment as a “great vote of confidence” in Britain as a global leader in developing technology that can be applied to worldwide problems. That chimes slightly with conversations I’ve previously had with Parsa where he has expressed his frustrations at the UK/Europe’s reluctance or lack of appetite for funding long term R&D and tech companies where a return may not be seen for years to come but where the potential to make a significant dent on this earth is huge.