AZ expands role in China, to include robots and health tech

AstraZeneca is planning to expand its role as a drug supplier in China to becoming a wider provider of healthcare through its use of robotics and other tech.

The pharma giant will use artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and digital applications to boost the way that diseases are managed in the country.

Products such as diabetes kits, smarter and faster cancer diagnostics and using AI to improve the way people with chest pain are moved to hospital will not have a huge impact on the company’s bottom line, but will help to embed the business in the Chinese healthcare market through strong relationships.

AstraZeneca’s CEO Pascal Soriot says that digital technology has allowed patients timely access to medicines in China’s crowded healthcare system.

Speaking at the World Internet of Things Exposition in Wuxi, China, Soriot told Reuters that tech could help to transform diagnosis and disease management.

Such measures could be particularly beneficial as China’s health needs are soaring as the population ages and the incidence of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, rises sharply.

Innovation, says Soriot, will help patients to access medicines far more quickly than they would be able to otherwise.

Earlier this year, pharmaphorum reported on AstraZeneca’s investment in an R&D site in Wuxi City after striking a deal with WuXi App Tec a few years ago.

This move has enabled AstraZeneca to gain a foothold in the city’s health tech so it is at the forefront of knowing what medical interventions are needed in China so it can help to bring these about using technology.

One example Soriot cited was AstraZeneca’s platelet therapy Brilinta (ticagrelor), which lowers patients’ chances of having another heart attack or from dying of a heart attack or stroke.

Soriot said: “We can leverage digital tools to better treat patients. With Brilinta we have technologies to diagnose patients in the ambulance, send them to the right hospital and make sure they have the appropriate treatment.”

Also, he added, technology can help to address China’s lack of hospital capacity by directing people to where their needs will be best met.

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