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Saudi Arabia set to back Babylon Health in its first UK VC deal

Leah Hodgson

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund is mulling over an investment in Babylon Health that would see the mobile health service attain unicorn status, as first reported by the Financial Times. Expected to be between $100 million and $500 million, the capital will be used to fund the London-based startup's international expansion, again per the FT. 

Babylon has reportedly been targeting new markets and has grown from 300 to 1,000-plus employees in two years, spending a considerable amount of money to boost its presence in both the UK and overseas. The company's expenses totaled $75 million last year, while revenue amounted to some $10 million, per reports. A fresh infusion from a high-profile investor would allow the company to maintain its current strategy. 

And Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund is certainly a high-profile investor. While best known for reportedly funneling $45 billion into Softbank's Vision Fund, PIF is also said to have made several flashy direct investments in companies such as Uber and Tesla. If successful, the Babylon transaction would be its first in the UK and would align with the healthcare partnership established by the UK and Saudi Arabia last year.  

The potential deal also comes at a time when Babylon is facing controversy for its app, which allows users to schedule video appointments with doctors in addition to providing medical advice when users enter symptoms. Despite its partnership with the UK's National Health Service, a number of general practitioners reportedly complained about the apps services. They claimed that the app puts financial strain on local NHS authorities due to the loss of patients registered at clinics and, in some cases, fails to accurately assess medical symptoms.  

Medical professionals' concerns don't appear to be putting off VC investors, though. Babylon gathered $60 million in 2017 from investors including NNS and Vostok New Ventures, achieving a valuation of around $200 million, per reports. The preceding year, the startup reportedly secured $25 million for its Series A led by Kinnevik

The new investment would not only be a significant boost for Babylon, but could also impact the wider healthcare industry. If the deal closes on the higher end of its projected range, it will become the industry's largest-ever VC transaction on the island, per the PitchBook Platform. That title is currently held by biotech startup Immunocore, which raised $320 million in 2015. Although venture capital funding in the sector reached a record €1.6 billion in 2018, this year has seen a massive drop in interest from investors. 

Featured image courtesy of Babylon Health

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