Behind the Term Sheet: How Savana Accelerates Life-Saving Health Science with Big Data

Vincent Sebag
Cathay Innovation
Published in
5 min readOct 15, 2020

By: Jacky Abitbol and Vincent Sebag, Cathay Innovation

Digitization in the healthcare sector has been historically slow. However, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella may have expressed it best in saying “we’ve seen two years worth of digital transformation in two months” and at a critical time when innovation is needed most in the face of a global pandemic — leading to more advanced technologies being applied to real world problems such as better treatment for patients across the world.

At Cathay Innovation, we invest in startups at the center of digital revolution across industries that can have a positive impact on their domains, communities and society as a whole. As global investors, we’ve long been aware of the untapped potential of digitization in healthcare and have forged partnerships with industry leading corporations, such as Sanofi, MACSF and bioMérieux, as committed investors in our Fund to better fuel innovation into the space.

Now more than ever, healthcare leaders must be able to make data-driven, critical decisions more quickly to create individualized treatment plans, provide a holistic view of patients, advance medical research and ultimately enhance health outcomes. We’re pleased to announce that our latest investment does just this — Savana is a Madrid-based health tech startup using AI to provide medical knowledge based on “Real World Evidence” to enhance research and build predictive models to enhance patients’ lives. The company provides doctors with life-saving insights by unlocking the critical information buried within the free text of clinical notes, allowing hospitals to optimize the research and development of new drugs.

In leading their $15 million Series B, as well as co-investing with long-time strategic partner and leading French insurer of healthcare professionals MACSF, we’re looking forward to joining Savana on its mission to accelerate at scale healthcare research using AI. Importantly, Savana is at the intersection of making this possible, while also ensuring patient data remains secure and confidential — a key necessity in today’s highly regulated environment.

Following our previous investments in Owkin, Inato, DayTwo and Medwing, Savana joins a growing list of companies we feel are leading the charge in healthcare disruption that will make a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of people everywhere.

Innovation in Healthcare: The Rise of Real World Evidence

According to CB Insights, investment in health tech has skyrocketed — with funding reaching a new record of $18.1 billion spanning 1,300 deals in the second quarter of 2020. One major area of opportunity within the healthcare sector, particularly now during a global race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, is the focus on clinical trials.

Today, clinical trials are not only extremely costly, but each study only produces a single result for one highly specific scenario — with any other closely related question requiring a completely separate trial. Until recently, clinical research sponsors (such as scientific societies or pharmaceutical companies) used clinical trials as their sole source of truth given the statistical process models ensured bias free data while alternative data sources, such as hospitals, were considered too low quality, biased and incomplete.

However, the sheer amount of data is now at a large enough scale to counteract these points, making “Real World Data,” routinely stored data in hospitals and insurance claims, now extremely valuable to compliment and improve clinical trials. Pharmas are now increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and big data algorithms to infer knowledge, or “Real World Evidence,” from this wealth of largely unstructured information previously not accessible.

Real World Evidence has huge potential to enable pharmas to better define and prioritize clinical trials leading to the production of higher quality drugs, at reduced development times, that are better targeted for patients. Specific use cases include market intelligence for pre-drug launch, facilitating new drug pricing and anticipating adherence, analyzing effectiveness on differentiation among subpopulations for better drug marketing and enabling repurposing of drugs for different pathologies.

Demand is growing at each step of the development life cycle, with Real World Evidence estimated to enable $500 million to $1 billion of value captured per top-10 pharma — drawing heavy investment from all major players. Yet, despite the huge opportunity, a major consideration in healthcare is that the underlying data is most often patient data — meaning the solutions that leverage these technologies require the highest levels of built-in privacy.

Enter Savana: Accelerating Life-Saving Health Science with Big Data

Savana founders Jorge Tello Guijarro, Ignacio Medrano and Alberto Giménez Ramón-Borja

In line with the massive Real World Data trend, Savana’s cutting-edge technology utilizes Natural Language Processing (NLP) to extract knowledge and insights from the unstructured text within Electronic Health Records (EHRs) across English, Spanish, German and French. In turn, Savana is able to retrieve context data on patients that previously didn’t exist and provide Real World Evidence to researchers around the world.

Savana already works with the top 25 pharma companies and over 100 healthcare facilities across Europe and North America. Unlike other companies in the space who typically use Real World Evidence for phase II or III clinical trials, Savana focuses on phase IV or observational studies for various use cases ranging from better selection of patients for trials, market access studies or comparative effectiveness of molecules.

They also take a privacy-first mindset, with all information remaining under hospital control and patient privacy guaranteed by the de-identification of data before its processed. This is particularly important throughout Europe, where requirements around data privacy compliance are significantly higher compared to other regions. With its privacy-first approach, Savana enables the knowledge generated from European hospitals — and anywhere else in the world — to be better leveraged while staying compliant with current regulations in place.

Parting Thoughts: On COVID-19 and the Digitization of Healthcare

Savana Team

Savana continues to advance the medical field, launching a COVID-19 descriptive research project in March 2020 that supplied the medical community with the first significant AI and data-driven insights from over 10,000 COVID patients to define clinical characteristics and predictive factors. Since COVID patient symptoms are only stored in free text within EHRs, Savana’s technology was key in getting results in less than three weeks (compared to the months it would have taken with clinical trials) to help doctors improve the clinical management of patients and treatments worldwide.

At scale, Savana’s solutions have the power to change the way pharmaceuticals, health centers and industry professionals approach, manage and derive value from clinical information — which will dramatically improve patient outcomes.

At Cathay, we believe health tech companies, particularly in Europe given the high-level of data compliance required, have a big role to play in the digitization of healthcare. With the combined forces of emerging technologies such as AI and the strong talent in research and biotech backgrounds, we’re looking forward to working with companies like Savana to accelerate health science and transform the industry as we know it for the better.



Vincent Sebag
Cathay Innovation

Investor & CTO @CathayInnovation, in charge of deep tech and healthcare