SoftBank forms AI healthcare joint venture with Tempus in Japan

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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 two plan to develop AI-powered personalized medical services by analyzing data in Japan under the name SB Tempus.

The company plans to start with oncology, where cancer remains the leading cause of death in Japan, according to Sun, whose father died of the disease last year.

The move underscores Son’s ambitious, broad focus on AI. Today, during an ad-hoc press conference, he filled in some details about a more specific application within it: the medical industry.

SoftBank’s relationship with Tempus predates today’s joint venture news. It invested $200 million in Tempus in April, just ahead of Tempus’ Nasdaq debut earlier this month. Tempus, which was once valued at $8.1 billion in 2022, raised about $411 million through its IPO at a valuation of more than $6 billion. However, its valuation hasn’t stood up: Its market cap is currently $4.5 billion.

The US-based genomic testing and data analysis company was started by serial entrepreneur and billionaire Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky in 2015 after he noticed doctors weren’t trusting data during his wife’s breast cancer treatment.

Tempus competes with other companies in the industry, including Foundation Medicine, which uses big data to analyze tumors, and Guardant Health, a biotech company that sells blood tests to detect and diagnose cancer.

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

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

According to Son, SB Tempus, which will begin operations in August, will provide three medical services to hospitals within the year, using AI to analyze personal medical data.

How it works: The joint venture company will begin collecting and analyzing patients’ 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 the processed data to hospitals for clinical use, and the AI ​​offering will suggest the best treatment for patients.

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

Along with fighting cancer, the plan also aims to expand its coverage to other diseases such as neuropsychology, radiology and cardiology.

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

Son said AI will be 10,000 times smarter than humans within a decade and laid out his vision for a world with artificial super intelligence (ASI) at the meeting. He also explained that SoftBank’s previous investments were “just a warm-up” for his ambition to create the age of AI.

Son reiterated how AI will benefit humans across a variety of fields, saying medicine is one example. (SoftBank is reportedly one of the companies interested in investing in Perplexity AI, a US-based AI company, at a $3 billion valuation through Vision Fund 2, according to a report from Bloomberg today. TechCrunch first reported on that round in April.)

Continuous losses at SoftBank’s investment arm Vision Fund caused the Japanese tech giant to go into “defense mode” and adopt a more conservative investment strategy. Now it seems that SoftBank, which has billions of dollars in its war chest, is now ready to go full throttle on investing in AI.

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