Putting the AI in Taiwan: A Peek inside the Use of Intelligent Technology in Taiwan’s Life Science Ecosystem

30 Jul

Cheng-Yu Chen

An interview with Cheng-Yu Chen, VP of Taipei Medical University
By Jessica Yang, Investor Research Analyst, LSN

Jessica Yang

In recent years, Taiwan has rapidly been catching up to the global Artificial Intelligence (AI) wave, as the government, leading industries, and academic institutions have proactively worked together to make Taiwan an AI talent hub in Asia. The well-known information and communications technology (ICT) and semiconductor industry in Taiwan have established a great foundation for intelligent technology development.

I had the opportunity to speak with Cheng-Yu Chen, VP of Taipei Medical University (TMU). Dr. Chen is also the Director of the Research Center for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine at TMU. Taipei Medical University has worked with Life Science Nation (LSN) and brought its spin-off companies to attend the Redefining Early Stage Investments (RESI) conferences for multiple years. TMU is also one of the most active academic institutions in Taiwan and has built its own AI in Medicine ecosystem. This includes the Technology Commercialization Center (TMU-TCC), the Smart Hospital Simulation Lab (SHSL), an incubator/accelerator, and hospitals, which not only support AI professionals, but also help with early-stage AI companies’ fundraising and business development.

Dr. Chen shared a comprehensive perspective of Taiwan’s AI in life science developments, and how Taipei Medical University has become an AI innovation hub in Taiwan.

Jessica Yang (JY): How do you see AI in life science developments and opportunities in Taiwan?

Cheng-Yu Chen (CC): Taiwan has been seeking to develop world-leading AI infrastructure and to become an important player in the global AI value chain. Especially within the life sciences area, I think Taiwan can leverage the following advantages that make it an essential hub to develop and promote AI technology:

(1) An industry leadership position in the manufacturing of ICT & semiconductor hardware

(2) The Taiwan government’s strong support and commitment to improving the AI R&D environment

(3) A no.1 ranking in the Global Open Data Index and a high level of transparency of data-sharing

When all these data combine with our ICT industries, it provides a friendly environment for testing the application of AI. In addition, the Taiwan government’s ongoing AI action plan, which includes the intent to introduce new laws and regulations to promote AI development, also helps professionals gain access to over 20 years of data from the National Health Insurance Administration while maintaining patients’ privacy. Overall, I see lots of promising opportunities in Taiwan to incorporate AI in life sciences.

JY: What are Taipei Medical University’s current efforts and accomplishments in AI in life science development?

CC: Here at Taipei Medical University (TMU), we understand that “No data, no AI,” thus TMU established the first Graduate Institute of Biomedical Informatics in Taiwan in 1998, which cultivated a sufficient talent pool to catch up the current global AI trend. Then we followed the government’s AI action plan to build more professional programs in AI in Medicine in recent years. These programs are aimed to increase the number of medical doctors, medical technologists, and clinic professionals with a working knowledge and skills in AI.

Furthermore, we also have the Research Center for AI in Medicine, the Smart Hospital Simulation Lab (SHSL), the Technology Commercialization Center (TMU-TCC), incubators, and hospitals, all designed to advance AI technologies. A professor who has a great idea can start a company through the commercialization center, the incubator programs can help find resources, and our research centers and labs can provide systems to complete proof-of-concept. As an example, we have already curated three AI-related companies in the past two years:

(1) DermAI: AI solutions to detect Malignant Melanoma (MM) and the risk of acnes

(2) AESOP Technology: AI-based prescription error prevention solution to maximize patient safety

(3) Redica Health: Ted-ICU AI solution to help with smart hospital construction

We plan to start two more companies next year.

JY: Both DermAI and AESOP have attended RESI before! Speaking of this, does TMU have any international collaborations in AI in life science development?

CC: Yes. There are many aspects on which we work with international corporations and institutes. For example, we partnered with AstraZeneca on incubator programs and clinical trial collaboration. We have also cooperated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to organize Hackathons on Health IoT programs. We also worked with Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, and sent our talents to learn AI imaging and surgical planning, etc. at these institutions. For the spin-off companies I just mentioned, AESOP Technology partnered with Harvard Innovation Labs and Brigham and Women’s Hospital to complete prescription screening tests. We expect to have more collaborations worldwide in the next few years.

JY: As we know, Taiwan did a great job in in preventing COVID-19 spread – do you think AI helps with this successful response?

CC: Yes. Our government, hospitals, and research institutes all took rapid actions that made Taiwan able to develop a nationwide mask sitemap using AI in real-time, as well as an AI-applied alert system incorporated in hospitals to decrease the risk of COVID-19 spread and local transmission.

In addition, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is gathering principal investigators’ ideas to further develop preventive strategies for such a pandemic, and many are AI-related. I think that as long as Taiwan keeps an innovative mindset and grasps the advantages of AI development, we will be able to build a successful and leading ecosystem in AI in the life science arena.

As AI is playing a significant role in the healthcare arena worldwide, LSN plans to launch the inaugural 4D Meets AI partnering conference September 17 – 18, 2020. This new 4D Meets AI conference is set to provide a new platform for all companies developing Drugs, Devices, Diagnostics, and Digital Health (the 4 Ds), with an Artificial Intelligence (AI) vertical, to meet and connect with investors and strategic partners. Visit http://4dmeetsai.com/ to learn more and register.

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