Babylon Health, a U.K.-based startup whose fast growth has been shadowed by concerns about the efficacy of its telemedicine apps, has raised $550 million in Series C funding, elevating the company to unicorn status. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which invest on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government, led the round that valued the company at $2 billion with a total of $635 million raised.
The new capital will enable the company to expand into more markets including the U.S. and Asia, Babylon said, and it will also bolster its artificial intelligence capabilities on the platform, which serves 4.3 million users worldwide. An unnamed U.S health insurer and a fund of global reinsurer Munich Re also invested. Vostok New Ventures, which already holds a 10% stake in Babylon, previously said it would participate in the new round, as did Sweden’s Kinnevik.
With an aim of cutting healthcare costs and broadening access, Babylon secured deals with Britain’s National Health Service with its apps to replace local doctor visits with video consultations and a chatbot that doled out advice on whether to see a doctor. It released a new artificially intelligent chatbot that promised to give diagnostic advice on common ailments, without human interaction. Its progress, however, was stuttered by doubts about the services’ abilities. Interviews with current and former Babylon staff and outside doctors revealed broad concerns that the company has rushed to deploy software that had not been carefully vetted, then exaggerated its effectiveness, Forbes revealed in December. The company disputed those claims, saying its software goes through many clinical tests. The company also came under fire for failure to follow up with patients receiving mental health treatment. At the time, Babylon blamed problems with the NHS referral system.
Any blunders don’t seem to have slowed the company’s momentum.
Led by CEO and Founder Ali Parsa, an Iranian-born former banker, Babylon has also secured contracts with Prudential and Samsung. It says it now delivers 4,000 clinical consultation a day, and one patient interaction every 10 seconds.
“We have a long way to go and a lot still to deliver,” Parsa said in a statement. “While the burden of healthcare is global, the solutions have to be localized to meet the specific needs and culture of each country.”
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