According to a MarketsandMarkets report published last year, the global healthcare analytics market is projected to grow 26.5% annually over the five-year period to be worth $18.7 billion by 2020. The industry was estimated to be worth $5.8 billion in 2015. North America has the largest market in the Big Data healthcare market due to the Big Data initiatives launched by the federal government to reduce healthcare expenses. China’s recent Billion-Dollar Unicorn Club member iCarbonX (Private:CRBNX) also is making big waves in the industry.
iCarbonX was founded in October 2015 by Jun Wang who wanted to build an ecosystem of digital life by successfully integrating an individual’s biological, behavioral, and psychological data with the Internet and artificial intelligence. The company is leveraging biotechnology and artificial intelligence with the long-term vision of creating a digital avatar that will be able to guide the user toward healthy life options. It aspires to create the first and the most professional data collection platform of life-time data from millions of individuals in China, and leverage artificial intelligence into Big Data analysis and machine learning.
It wants to be able to provide individualized health analysis and prediction of health index through advanced data mining and machine analysis technologies. It is using a professional data collection platform of health data and continuously updating knowledge base to create the first intelligent robot that will provide a private health management system and choices for a healthier life at all times.
Prior to setting up iCarbonX, Wang was the CEO of Chinese genomics giant BGI. He set up iCarbonX to capitalize on the emergence of the ability to generate massive multi-omic datasets and the rise of artificial intelligence tools that will help take the grunt work out of basic research. California-based Human Longevity (Private:HLONG) has been sequencing and analyzing genomes with the objective of increasing the life span of individuals. But iCarbonX believes that additional factors including behavior, imaging and environmental data also affect how genes are expressed. It is also utilizing the advantages of data mining and analysis into fields beyond life span expansion.
iCarbonX thus gathers all sorts of data from the users, including genomic, phenotypic, behavioral, social and environmental data, and allows relevant parties like drug manufacturers, hospitals and healthcare providers to access this data. Many liken iCarbonX to the Google of the biotechnology field. Once the data is collected, iCarbonX then uses algorithms to analyze the data and is able to recommend tailored wellness programs and food choices customized to the user.
iCarbonX does not disclose detailed financials, but as of 2015, it did not earn any revenues. While building the digital avatar may be iCarbonX’s ultimate goal, it is hoping to reach that stage one step at a time. To start with, it will open its first consumer-focused cosmetic store. The store is expected to open later this year and it will use the person’s skin sample to recommend the most effective products. The move will help it earn revenues as well.
iCarbonX is venture funded and has raised $200 million from investors including China Bridge Capital, Tencent Holdings, and VCANBIO Cell & Gene Engineering. In April this year, it raised $155 million in a round led by Tencent Holdings that valued it at over $1 billion – a remarkable achievement considering that at the time of fundinig, iCarbonX was barely a few months old.
In an interview earlier this year, Wang said,
“I’m trying to build a crystal ball. By analyzing all the data that we can get our hands on, we will be able to see more clearly to predict what might happen to your body in the future.”
The advancements in medical technology made through Big Data analysis are definitely desirable. But I’m still worried about the valuation of the company. iCarbonX is barely a few months old, has no clear monetization model, and will clearly take a while to turn in a sustainable business model. Even so, it has managed to amass a billion-dollar valuation making me wonder if this is a genuine unicorn or just another bubbly affair in the making.