July 15, 2024

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SoftBank forms AI healthcare JV in Japan with Tempus

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SoftBank Group founder Masayoshi Son announced on Thursday that the Japanese tech giant has set up a joint venture in the country with Chicago-based health tech company Tempus. Together, the pair plan to develop AI-powered personalized medical services, by way of analyzing data in Japan under the name SB Tempus.

The company plans to start with oncology. Cancer remains the biggest cause of death in Japan, according to Son, whose father passed away last year because of the disease.

This move underscores Son’s ambitious, wider focus on AI. Today, during the ad hoc press conference, he filled out some details around a more specific application within that: the medical industry.

SoftBank’s ties with Tempus precede today’s JV news. It invested $200 million in Tempus in April, right before Tempus’s Nasdaq debut earlier this month. Tempus, once valued at $8.1 billion in 2022, raised nearly $411 million at a valuation of more than $6 billion via its IPO. Its valuation, however, has not stood up: its market cap currently is $4.5 billion.

The U.S.-based genomic testing and data analysis company was started by serial entrepreneur and billionaire Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky in 2015 after noticing that doctors didn’t rely on data during his wife’s treatment of breast cancer.

Tempus competes with industry peers including Foundation Medicine, which uses big data to analyze tumors, and Guardant Health, a biotech company that sells blood tests to track and potentially detect cancer.

SB Tempus will be a vehicle for Tempus to bring its data-driven medical technology to Japan. Tempus will “build clinical sequencing capabilities, organize patient data and build a real-world data business in Japan,” and Son said SB Tempus would provide genomic testing, medical data aggregation and analysis (genomic, clinical, pathology and imaging data), as well as AI insights for personalized treatments and therapies.

Both companies have made a substantial investment in this venture. SoftBank and Tempus, respectively, hold a 50% stake, with SoftBank set to inject 30 billion yen, equivalent to around $188 million, Son said on the stage at the media briefing.

SB Tempus, which will start operations in August, will offer three medical services to hospitals using AI to analyze personal medical data as early as within the year, according to Son.

How it works: The JV company will begin collecting and analyzing patient genetic data from Japanese hospitals and universities. The data, which will include genomic, pathological, clinical information and photo images, will be used to train AI patterns for patients in Japan. The company will provide hospitals with processed data for clinical use, and the AI offerings will suggest the best treatment for patients.

Son stated that in Japan, only about 1% of patients have experience with genomic testing. In comparison, approximately 30% have had the chance to receive genomic testing in the U.S. He also mentioned the company’s goal of reaching the same level as the U.S.

As well as fighting cancer, the plan is to expand to other diseases, such as neuropsychology, radiology and cardiology.

The announcement comes about a week after the Japanese tech giant’s CEO made a special public appearance last Friday at the group’s annual meeting.

Son said AI will be 10,000 times smarter than humans in a decade and laid out his vision for a world featuring Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) at the meeting. He also mentioned that SoftBank’s past investments were “just a warm-up” for his ambition to create an era of AI.

Son reiterated how AI will benefit humans in various sectors, adding that medicine is one example. SoftBank is reportedly one of the companies interested in investing in Perplexity AI, the U.S.-based AI company, at a valuation of $3 billion, per Bloomberg’s report today. TechCrunch was the first to report on that round back in April.)

A string of losses at SoftBank’s investment arm Vision Fund led the Japanese tech mogul to switch into “defense mode,” taking a more conservative investment strategy. Now it really seems that SoftBank, which has billions of dollars in its war chest, is ready to work in full swing to invest in AI.

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