Tag Archives: Population Health

SPI Premium Insight: Optum’s Date With Destiny as EMIS Acquisition Decision Looms

By tomorrow, Optum Health must respond to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) objections over its planned acquisition of EMIS. If approved, the £1.24B ($1.52B) deal for the UK’s leading primary care EHR vendor promises to have wide-reaching implications for the NHS. 

The Signify View 

The CMA’s principal objections to the acquisition, announced last June, revolve around its potential impact on the competitive landscape of the UK’s drug Clinical Decision Support (CDS) and population health management (PHM) markets. 

To completely address CMA concerns, Optum realistically has two options: sell its UK drug CDS business, or exit from its UK PHM activities. But is either option viable? Investors we have spoken to about this in recent days speculate that United Health/Optum is so fixated on getting the EMIS deal done that it will offer to ‘sell its UK business’ to assuage CMA objections. The question is: what does this actually mean? 

Match Making 

To answer this, it helps to consider why Optum is so ‘fixated’ on EMIS. We wrote shortly after the acquisition was announced (see this Insight) about the magnitude of such a deal, and its potential ramifications for the NHS and UK healthcare. 

We can understand why acquisition would be agreeable for both parties. As part of United Health, Optum has a massive US insurance and provider network footprint, and would bring unparalleled scale, portfolio breadth and financial heft to the table.  

EMIS, meanwhile, sells its EHR solution to an estimated 55% of UK NHS GP practices. The company also leads UK community pharmacy IT, inpatient EDIS and community EHR markets, and provides the patient-facing digital front door, booking management system and virtual care platform for many primary care practices via its Patent Access business. Revenues continue to grow at mid- to high single digits, and in the last three years the company brought its EMIS-X analytics platform to market, supporting Primary Care Networks (PCNs) and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) in addressing care management analytics and PHM.  

Optum has, to date, achieved limited traction for its PHM products in the UK. But the combination of EMIS-X, Optum’s US PHM products (which, largely, have not yet been localised for the UK market) and EMIS’ broad UK footprint offers several synergies and routes to market for both companies.  

The Objections 

In the CMA’s objections document, two (of many) points stand out. One relates to the UK’s drug CDS/Medicines Optimisation (MO) software market. Here, Optum’s ScriptSwitch business and competitor First Databank are shared beneficiaries of a £100M ($123M) contract with NHS Shared Business Services for medication cost-optimisation CDS solutions used in primary care. 

The CMA is concerned that Optum and EMIS would wield excessive power over the market by bringing together ScriptSwitch’s cost optimisation tool with EMIS’ clinical safety-focused solution. Many EMIS EHR customers already buy this solution, and the CMA considers that this large installed base could dramatically alter market dynamics. 

A second key objection raised by the CMA makes for more uncomfortable reading for Optum. The CMA notes that the NHS Health System Support Framework, and other frameworks such as GP Futures, mandate open APIs and free data sharing. The CMA argues that, by buying EMIS (which effectively holds 55% of primary care patient data), other vendors will be denied the opportunity to custom-integrate their technologies to the degree they need to, despite the regulations enforcing data sharing.  

This could have the effect of pushing up costs to the NHS. Reinforcing this point, vendors we speak to speculate that Optum could exploit loopholes in these frameworks to block data sharing and aggregation, should it acquire EMIS. Vendors have a vested interest in flagging such concerns: Oracle Cerner, Graphnet, Patients Know Best, Orion and InterSystems have all benefitted from PHM contracts to date and would view an Optum-EMIS portfolio as a competitive threat. This is especially true given EMIS’ massive installed base of customers (to which the combined entity will be looking to upsell their PHM solutions). 

While the CMA acknowledges that Optum is a small player in the UK PHM market at present, it is mindful of its potential should it have a vehicle (i e EMIS) to localise and scale its solutions. 

Hard Sell 

From Optum’s perspective, the most obvious response is to offer to sell ScriptSwitch, which has been steadily losing share to First Databank’s more innovative cost optimisation solution under the NHS Shared Business Services contract. Optum would need to invest to make the product more competitive and, with the five-year contract up for renewal at the end of 2023 (and no guarantee it would be renewed), Optum will feel ScriptSwitch is a suitable sacrificial lamb. 

But selling ScriptSwitch does not address the CMA’s more weighty objections about the impact of the acquisition on the UK PHM market.  

As mentioned previously, Optum is a small player in UK population health at present. It sells a handful of PHM tools to ICSs and PCNs under the NHS Health System Support Framework, partners with some PHM vendors and provides some consultancy services, but little else of note. 

Yet the UK integrated care/PHM market is of great strategic interest to the American company. 

For example, ICSs have signed contracts, leveraging the NHS’ approximately $600M Health System Led Investment (HSLI) programme, for data integration platforms supporting the development of regional shared or integrated care records. Although neither Optum nor EMIS have featured significantly in major shared care record contracts over the last three-plus years, Optum has been involved from an IT consultancy/system integration perspective throughout. EMIS, meanwhile, has been developing its EMIS-X Analytics portfolio of solutions designed specifically for PHM and analytics used by ICSs, PCNs and other agencies involved in supporting a multidisciplinary approach to integrated care. 

Optum will also hope to overcome the challenge of localisation and replicate in the UK the success it has had with its PHM IT solutions in the US, which generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. Combining with EMIS’ expanding local solution set will, in its eyes, help it achieve that. 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place 

This places Optum in a quandary. Ultimately, the fate of the EMIS acquisition will boil down to Optum’s ability to overturn the CMA’s objections. While selling ScriptSwitch is the easy (and most palatable) option for Optum, the CMA might think differently. 

Addressing CMA objections around population health will be far harder. It is unclear how ‘selling Optum UK’ would address this. The CMA’s concerns relate to future PHM products offered by Optum in the UK, not only current solutions, which presumably refers to PHM products the company currently sells in the US and could localise for the UK. This is a substantial business for Optum and one it will not sell to address the CMAs concerns. It’s on this point the decision is likely to pivot. Perhaps Optum can make a credible case to the CMA that it can establish some sort of framework agreement on open access to its data. Outside a strong commitment to continue to provide EMIS data to other PHM providers this appears to be the only option. 

Optum will also be well aware that it is just another actor in the long-running ‘US companies profiteering from NHS funding’ show. A £1BN-plus acquisition of a successful UK technology firm by a profit-driven US healthcare insurer/provider was always going to re-stoke the fires of debate around large US organisations extending their tentacles into the NHS. There will almost certainly be an element of political grandstanding at play here, too.  

Tomorrow, the CMA will have its responses, and it will not be long before Optum’s finds out if its fixation with EMIS becomes business reality.  

Signify Premium Insight: Artrya: AI & the Art of Going Public Punctually

This Insight is part of your subscription to Signify Premium Insights – Medical ImagingThis content is only available to individuals with an active account for this paid-for service and is the copyright of Signify Research. Content cannot be shared or distributed to non-subscribers or other third parties without express written consent from Signify ResearchTo view other recent Premium Insights that are part of the service please click here.

Australian cardiac AI developer Artrya recently announced that it is set to list on the Australian Stock Exchange this month, at an enterprise value of more than AUD 105m (US$77m). The cardiac imaging specialist plans to raise AUD 40m in an initial public offering of 29.6m shares, at AUD 1.35 a share.

The money will add to the AUD 19m in start-up funding the vendor has so far received and will primarily be used to meet costs associated with product development, clinical R&D and regulatory clearance. The vendor’s core solution, Salix, has been admitted by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as a Class 1 product, allowing it to be commercialised in that country, and Artrya has filed an application with the US-FDA. The float will, however, also fund global expansion, and allow other regulatory filings to be made in Canada, the EU (CE Mark) and the UK.

The Signify View

Heart disease is the world’s leading cause of death. As such, any tool which can aid in the relief of such a global health burden has significant market potential. Artrya is the latest company to utilise AI to capitalise on this potential and address a health problem that is responsible for, according to the World Health Organisation 32% of all deaths each year.

Aside from potentially saving millions of lives, software tools that can address heart disease can also bring about sizable economic benefits. Many patients only realise they have heart disease when they experience a heart attack or other significant cardiac event. Those patients, if they survive, often require expensive interventional procedures, extensive rehabilitation programmes, and costly courses of drugs. Solutions which help identify and manage at-risk patients sooner, enabling them to be treated with lifestyle changes and preventative medicine, could save billions of dollars and therefore be an attractive proposition for providers.

Artrya hopes to offer such benefits with its Salix suite of solutions which aims to improve the detection and treatment in two ways. Firstly, the developer aims to automate the analysis and diagnosis of heart CT scans, and secondly, in adopting more of a population health approach and improving the identification and management of patients at risk of coronary arterial disease. It does so by assessing certain types of arterial plaques (namely vulnerable plaque, not easily discernible on CT scans by the human eye), which are linked to heart disease. Like American heart health software developer Cleerly, which also focuses on the identification and classification of arterial plaques, this approach deviates from more typical assessments which focus on arterial calcification, a surrogate, rather than direct marker of heart disease.

Deep in Development

Despite the promise of this approach, however, Artrya’s suite is still very much in development. While the vendor’s Salix Coronary Anatomy (SCA) product, which detects the vulnerable plaque and other biomarkers, is in the process of securing regulatory clearance in the US and Europe, the other key component in the suite, Salix Coronary Flow (SCF), a ‘non-invasive whole-heart blood flow assessment’ is still in development. Meanwhile, development for several of the suite’s other constituent products has not yet even begun.

This begs the question of why the vendor has chosen to list now. Most AI vendors to date have tended to rely on private funding as they continued to work on their products, only going public when their offering is more mature. Cleerly, for example, raised significantly more in its recent Series B funding round, than Artrya will net from its listing. While the market potential for Cleerly, in the near term at least, is arguably higher given it has already secured FDA approval, the vendors are still at similar stages. Both vendors will, for instance, seek to use the benefits of their recent funding rounds for the commercialisation of their products. Cleerly however appears to be treading a path more similar to that of HeartFlow, the most well-funded of all medical imaging AI vendors. When HeartFlow listed in July 2021, it had already raised more than $550m in private funding, had already become well established in many hospitals, including beyond the US, was generating revenue, and even reimbursement (in the US, UK, and Japan) for its solution. Artrya’s approach of listing publicly before it has achieved any of this may grant the vendor a greater degree of exposure, at least in the short term, and help the vendor as it tries to promote itself. However, unlike Cleerly whose backers are perhaps more nurturing and invested in the longer term, Artrya will now have to deal with a multitude of shareholders, potentially pushing the vendor in different directions, and perhaps being rather less understanding in their quest for accelerated returns.

Growth to be had

Artrya’s decision could be influenced by several factors. As highlighted in Signify Research’s analysis of VC funding in 2020, it is becoming increasingly difficult for smaller, less established AI vendors to secure VC funding, especially as market leaders are emerging. This lack of forthcoming funding, as well as impending time pressures as vendors look to secure segments of the market for themselves, making it harder for other vendors to thrive, could also have driven Artrya to accelerate its plans. Floating in the future may not have been an option if the developer had waited until it had grown and found that it had missed its opportunity, with the market consolidating around competitor vendors. Given the market Artrya is targeting, the vendor does have potential to grow significantly. This is particularly true given the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association’s recent changes to their guidelines that emphasise CT Angiography (CTA), an imaging exam necessary for the use of Artrya’s suite, as a first-line test for evaluating patients. Securing US-FDA clearance will enable it to gain traction on the back of these new guidelines. Further, the value of the vendor’s offering is also seen by the UK’s National Health Service, which has added it to the provider’s list of approved and prequalified suppliers. This could bolster the vendor’s fortunes in the near future, with Artrya anticipating UKCA regulatory approval, enabling the solution to be purchased in the UK, in mid-2022.

In addition to the commercial considerations there are also issues surrounding the integration of the solutions and how they are used in practice. One of the possibilities, for example, is improving the integration of the AI results into the provider’s workflow. At present, the process for the use of these tools is to conduct a scan, which is then analysed by the AI algorithm, and then the results are returned in a report. This could be improved if the results of the scan could be more efficiently brought into the workflow, even going as far as reporting results in real time. Such advances could bring disruption to the market, enabling Artrya, or whichever vendor was able to achieve such a feat to have a distinct technical advantage compared to competitors.

Early or Excellence?

Ultimately, Artrya’s decision to list could prove a smart move. If the vendor can capitalise on the cash injection to successfully win regulatory approval in the United States and Europe, commercialise its suite and win a few large deals it could become part of a rapidly growing segment. Artrya could establish itself as one of a handful of key, high-profile AI developers that specialise in heart health, and grow along with the market. Like others such as Cleerly and Zebra Medical Vision, for example, Artrya’s population health tools could also prove lucrative as opportunistic screening becomes a more important feature of the market. This is particularly true given Artrya’s identification of direct biomarkers, rather than surrogate biomarkers, which are used by some competitors, such as Zebra Medical Vison.

However, this upside carries considerable risk. Artrya will, every quarter, have to share its performance and share progress with investors. Unlike vendors that are able to develop in the dark until launching, as its closest competitor Cleerly was able to do, Artrya will have to perpetually convince investors of its value. This will at present and for the foreseeable future, prove a difficult task. Artrya is not generating revenue, and for all the opportunity before it, this potential is at present almost wholly unrealised. How swiftly and how significantly that changes will be a measure of how successful this unconventional play proves to be.

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This Insight is part of your subscription to Signify Premium Insights – Medical Imaging. This content is only available to individuals with an active account for this paid-for service and is the copyright of Signify Research. Content cannot be shared or distributed to non-subscribers or other third parties without express written consent from Signify ResearchTo view other recent Premium Insights that are part of the service please click here