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Saudi sovereign fund contributes to £450m investment in Babylon expansion

Babylon has secured $550m – or £450m – in investment from multiple organisations, including Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, to expand its services and develop AI technology for managing chronic conditions.

In a statement today, Babylon confirmed its new investors as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, global reinsurer company Munich Re and another unnamed health insurer that Babylon only described as ‘one of the largest’ in the US.

Meanwhile the digital provider’s existing shareholders – investment companies Kinnevik AB and Vostok New Ventures – also contributed to the investment.

Babylon, which serves NHS patients through its GP at Hand practice, has said this round of funding will be for ‘extensive product innovation’ to cover chronic conditions and international expansion.

GPs have said they are concerned the expansion will lead to further destabilisation of the general practice model, and repeated previous accusations that the company ‘cherry-picks’ healthier patients.

Babylon said today’s funding represents the largest investment in the European and US digital health delivery sector, valuing the digital healthcare company at more than $2bn.

In 2018, the digital-first provider spent £75m to develop AI that will help GPs diagnose and manage chronic conditions. 

Babylon has said this new investment will enable the company to grow and expand into the United States and Asia, and further develop its AI technology.

Dr Ali Parsa, founder and chief executive of Babylon said today: ‘This investment will allow us to maximise the number of lives we touch across the world. We have a long way to go and a lot still to deliver. We are grateful to our investors, our partners and 1,500 brilliant Babylonians for allowing us to forge ahead with our mission.

’Chronic conditions are an increasing burden to affordability of healthcare across the globe. Our technology provides a solid base for a comprehensive solution and our scientists, engineers, and clinicians are excited to work on it.’

He added: ‘We have seen significant demand from partners across the US and Asia. While the burden of healthcare is global, the solutions have to be localised to meet the specific needs and culture of each country.’

But Dr Peter Holden, BMA GP Committee deputy policy lead for practice finance, said: ‘It’s one thing to have a business that develops AI, it’s another thing to have a business that develops AI and destabilises the essential basic general practice offering in the NHS.

‘We’re not going to stop innovation, but you can’t allow people to cherry-pick to develop their business and then leave doctors holding all the difficult patients. Definitely not with the current funding model we’ve got.

‘If the Government is going to allow this, then it has to support doctors and their practices.’

He added: ‘They’re a commercial firm, so in that world, it’s expand or die. So I’m not surprised. It’s a separate issue that they’ve got money to go and develop a product from how they inflict themselves on the NHS.’

Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee said: ‘I think it’s disgraceful that Babylon is being bankrolled to force their model onto an unsuspecting public and in its wake, risk totally destabilising general practice.

‘The recent Ipsos Mori inquiry into GP at Hand confirmed that the model prioritises those who need a GP lease at the expense of those who need us the most. They found that it increased access for those who are younger and generally healthy.

‘I would like to know why Matt Hancock is allowing this and what’s in it for the Saudi investors. The NHS should be publicly (and properly) funded and available to all according to their need. Private funding of this sort moves us ever closer to the sort of consumerist demand-led health service which bedevils the US.’

Babylon has previously defended itself against accusations of cherry-picking patients by saying its service had seen ‘a broad range of patients benefiting from being able to see a GP quickly’.