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[Herald Interview] Software dons role of therapeutics
‘In budding world of software as medical device, more players are needed for the market to grow’
Published : Feb 22, 2021 - 18:04
Updated : Feb 22, 2021 - 18:30

LifeSemantics CEO Song Seung-jae (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
When talking about medical devices, conventional hardware with analytical or therapeutic functions for human health usually come to mind.

But computer software that seeks to cure or alleviate symptoms in patients also falls into the medical device category, according to Article 2 of the Medical Devices Act. This new tool, after years of serving an auxiliary role for hardware devices, has recently emerged as a key player in the medical arena.

LifeSemantics, a digital therapeutics company founded in 2012, hopes to ride the swelling tide.

“For an emerging market like this one to grow, there needs to be more players widening the pie,” LifeSemantics’ CEO Song Seung-jae said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“As a pioneer in the field, we wish to prepare the road so that those who follow will pay less opportunity cost,” Song said.

According to Song, digital health is yet to have an industry pie, and there is a lack of consensus on the value or future of a digital health care company.

Song hopes that his company’s initial public offering on the Kosdaq bourse, set for end-March, will offer a concrete idea.

LifeSemantics offers cloud storage services for patient health data, artificial intelligence-powered digital programs to help patients recover from breathing difficulties and cancer, and provides portals for doctors to give remote consultations.

The company leverages medical information, big data, cloud computing and blockchain technologies.

The latest governmental movement to both foster and regulate software as medical devices has led to a systemic review of the products to prove their safety and efficacy. Medical devices are now required to turn in two-leg clinical trial data -- first, an investigative operation on a focus group, and then a wider trial authorized by the Drug Ministry.

Commercializing a digital therapy would require three to five years, while novel drug developments often take 10 years to finish.

This emerging market of digital therapeutics is buoyed by the burgeoning demand for innovative treatment options requiring less physical contact during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the long run, it could create tectonic shifts in the field of medicine.

LifeSemantics’ service is B2B-focused, meaning that its role can go largely unnoticed by the public. For instance, when a life insurance company wants to use consumer health information collected by a wearable company, LifeSemantics can create the cloud transfer route to enable such collaboration.

LifeSemantics is compatible with iOS and Android and every platform there is out there, according to CEO Song.

The company’s B2B partners include sizable clients such as Hanwha Life Insurance, Korea Land and Housing Corp., Bodyfriend and more.

“What we can do is help existing players provide digital therapeutics to their clientele,” Song said.

Those who work with LifeSemantics will get an end-to-end solution for digital health care services that abides by the still-evolving regulations.

Other than the cloud service, LifeSemantics offers apps that guide patients on health care.

“LifeSemantics started from my personal needs to care for my parents’ cancer. The apps simply have to excel, because my own parents are using them,” Song said.

LifeSemantics has a prognosis care app for cancer patients that gives them personalized AI-powered encouragements and recommendations on how to care for their health at home.

Similar to how on-demand video services provide a customized selection of movies, LifeSemantics’ app gives personalized self-care advice to each individual patient.

Song’s background is in computer engineering. It was during his doctoral studies in medical information that Song’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. She is a survivor, but now his father is undergoing cancer therapies.

“Only after my parents became ill, I realized how little I knew about their previous health conditions,” Song said, adding that he understood very little of what doctors had told him.

His focus since then has been simplifying the jargon that doctors commonly use, improve patients’ health literacy and allow them to take better care of their own health.

LifeSemantics’ respiratory rehabilitation app, which helps people with breathing difficulties improve their condition through at-home care, is set to apply for a grant from the local drug authority to carry out clinical trials to earn the credentials as a medical device.

The company’s remote medical appointment app for foreigners in Korea, named Dr.Call, will have its first patient case ahead of the IPO.

LifeSemantics plans to operate these apps under a subscription model.

Personal monitoring of health with less dependency on hospital care, in the long-term, can reduce national health care costs and prevent serious illnesses in people. Doctors will hopefully have an alleviated workload amid an aging society.

LifeSemantics believes that the global digital health market will grow at an annual average of 15.5 percent and hit $392 billion by 2024.

Locally in Korea, despite variables that may potentially obstruct growth, LifeSemantics anticipates a 4.7 trillion won ($4.2 billion) market by the same year.

The variables, according to the company’s securities report, are the possibility of misdiagnosis that may debase credibility of software medical devices; intellectual property theft or poaching of key research and development personnel and more.

“It had been the privilege of few to be able to call up a doctor and ask for their opinion on personal medical conditions,” Song said in closing remark.

“What we do at LifeSemantics is leverage information technology to make doctors more accessible for everyone. We wish to better connect medical professional with patients,” he said.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)

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