Catching up with Ashish Koshy, the M42 executive leading the UAE’s push for personalized medicine

The Group COO reflects on the merger between Mubadala Health and G42 Healthcare and what he is eyeing for acquisitions and talent

M42 Health is overseeing the Emirati Genome Program, which has mapped the genetic code of more than 500,000 people in the UAE, representing one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the world. 

Abu Dhabi Department of Health Chairman Mansoor Ibrahim Al Mansoori has called the project “a contribution to Arabs and to the world,” a key to improving health outcomes, tailoring personalized medicine and preventing disease. To date, only 1% of the world’s genomes that have been mapped are of Arab descent. The resulting reference genome in the M42 project is aimed at more personalized and preventive healthcare for the UAE’s citizens and a greater understanding of rare genetic disorders and new treatments. 

The national program is shaping practically everything at healthtech behemoth M42 Health, created less than two years ago when Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Health and G42 Healthcare merged, bringing labs, technology, hospitals and clinics under one brand. 

Similar efforts are underway in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to map the local population’s genetic code. But Mansoori says the UAE is ahead. 

This week, M42 announced a new research partnership with Microsoft, Harvard University and MIT. The collaboration, announced in Dubai during the Arab Health conference, will give research teams access to M42 data in a secure environment, its developers say, to advance clinical research and drug discovery.

To talk about the business and how M42 is building on these partnerships, The Circuit caught up with Group Chief Operating Officer Ashish Koshy on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this month. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

The Circuit: More than a year after the merger of Mubadala Health and G42 Healthcare, you are out and about. Here at Davos, you have had a large presence and later this month at Arab Health. What is on your agenda and what are you hoping to get by being, pardon the phrase, on the circuit?

Ashish Koshy: The year 2023 has been a significant year for integration. M42 was created with the merger between Mubadala Health and G42 Healthcare. G42 Healthcare brings the digital tech and genomics, and Mubadala Health having the state of the art facilities. 

It’s been a wonderful year of integration and yet we were able to launch some cutting-edge initiatives. One is Med42 which was launched in October as the world’s first open access, clinical large language model to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam. To date, to my knowledge – and in spite of AI changing by the minute – there’s nothing yet that has crossed that benchmark, which showcases the power and the mandate that was created with this merger. 

Second, one of the largest products we launched is the pharmacogenomics initiative. You’ve heard of the Emirati Genome Program: a large population-scale genetic sequencing program. The question is, okay, what’s next? We are now returning to patients [that shared their DNA sample], and telling them what pharmaceutical drugs work for them based on their genetic makeup. This is a national initiative. We want to work with partners here in the AI space specifically on strengthening our roadmap. We’re saying we’re here and we’re open for business. 

TC: The last time I talked to you, when you were CEO of G42 Healthcare, you were Mr. Personalized Medicine. But your portfolio has changed with the Mubadala Health merger. Can you dig into what your remit is now?

AK: Personalized medicine is still on the agenda! It’s on the agenda. M42 is one of the largest integrated healthtech companies in the world. We have 450 facilities, business operations in 26 different countries and an employee size of 20,000. What has changed since the last time we spoke is our portfolio has the Omics Center of Excellence, which is running DNA sequencing at scale. We have IROS which is running clinical trials. We have an environmental science business, which is running programs specifically testing wastewater samples and proactively understanding risks to the environment.

TC: That was an interesting COVID learning…

AK: Absolutely. And it’s still working and right now it’s supporting multiple initiatives in public health. We have a digital health pillar, one of the key products is called Malaffi which is the health information exchange. So we’ve created a platform, and irrespective of which hospital you are in, the data is centralized [in the UAE]. So that’s the G42 Health universe. 

On the Mubadala Health side, you have Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Imperial College, we have HealthPlus, we’ve got IVF facilities and a recent acquisition called Diaverum, which is the third-largest dialysis network in the world. It’s currently running large dialysis programs, including in Saudi Arabia. In a nutshell, our portfolio includes state-of-the-art facilities to digital health. 

TC: Speaking of that deal, M42 bought Diaverum in April 2023, it reportedly valued this Swedish company at $2.5 billion. Are you looking at further acquisitions? Are you looking for technology vendors? The word ‘partner’ is thrown around a lot. Can you drill down what partnerships mean in an M42 context?

AK: Our mandate set by the board and our shareholders is to bring in tech-enabled solutions that will improve patient outcomes, go on that journey for personalized medicine and also ensure we improve the operational workflow and improve margins within the business. Now, if there are tech solutions, if there are companies or partners that are ahead of the curve currently and we can plug and play into the ecosystem that I just described, 100% it’s part of the mandate. There’s no one-size-fits-all all in terms of the acquisition approach, but if it fits into our synergistic goals, and also long-term vision, then yes.

TC: Do you have geographies that you’re interested in or particular technologies?

AK: I think we are agnostic on geographies. I think it’s based on what the partner or the company provides, even if it’s healthcare in a different part of the continent or world but fits into the metrics that we just described, it’s definitely open for discussion.

TC: I’m curious about the futuristic vision the UAE has for healthcare, particularly for its citizens. It wants to map the genome of every Emirati citizen, and one day invite expat residents, of which we are many, to participate and for personalized medicine to be the norm.

AK: You can participate! Just don’t expect the government to fund it for now. You can walk into a facility and say hey, here is my signature on the consent form, I want to be part of this initiative. And you can get that done. 

TC: How much will it cost?

AK: I think roughly around I need to double-check on that but roughly 1000 dirhams, ballpark figure. Don’t quote me on that. 

TC: From the resulting genomic profile you get, how does M42 plug that into the UAE’s broader healthcare goals?

AK: I think the UAE is well in advance of other countries across the globe in building this national initiative. Be it a Malaffi initiative, which is a national centralized platform, connecting all the hospitals together. Some countries or governments say, Why do we do it? But the UAE had that before COVID and see how Abu Dhabi managed COVID. We launched this genomics initiative pre-COVID. And that’s when, eventually when COVID came you wanted sequencing partners to run large-scale COVID variant sequencing. So absolutely I think in terms of future vision, the foundation has already been laid by the UAE. I’m talking even beyond M42. Be it on the data infrastructure, be it on sequencing, be it on biobanking. I think it’s open for business for life science companies to come and invest into Brand Abu Dhabi and partner with companies like M42.

TC: These are highly technical areas that require a lot of skill, a lot of graduate degrees in one room. How are you hiring? What jobs are open? 

AK: Our doors are always open for the right talent. And the fact that M42 offers everything even beyond a physician or a nurse portfolio all the way to cloud ops. So the range of opportunities that M42 offers is a lot and we’re constantly on the lookout for global talent. From the top of my head, specifically on AI, we were doing a lot on initiatives around Med42 and building an AI system. We’ve got an active collaboration with Microsoft which is a strong strategic partner for us. We’ve got active hiring specifically on the environmental science business, because there’s a huge thing now post-COP28, a huge focus on climate change. These are three main pillars, but in hospital operations, always we are looking for talent.

TC: You’re an expat. You decided to make the move to Abu Dhabi. The question always is, do you plan to stay?

AK: I came here in 2016, 2017, on a six-month stint, like the typical consultant, and never left. I was talking to some of my colleagues here. The UAE offers a wonderful ecosystem compared to some of the other countries around the neighborhood. It’s inclusive, it’s tolerant. It offers business opportunities. So yeah, I don’t want to leave at all and now the fact that we are bringing and rewarding talent with Golden Visas, we see a huge influx of people that want to come in, which makes our job easier to hire the right talent. The UAE is home for me and I don’t intend to leave.

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