Anne Bruinvels, Founder & CEO of Px Healthcare
How would you describe your journey in health tech?
My journey started with a passion for health. My whole career has been focused on improving and solving health and life science issues. I’m a pharmacist and a biomedical scientist by training, and in 2001 I set up a biotechnology company working on personalised medicine for people with psychiatric diseases. After we listed on the London Stock Exchange I began to think more about the role that consumer-facing technology could play in helping people with all sorts of complex diseases.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, will find out that we or someone we love has cancer. It’s a stressful, scary, and often confusing experience. I saw that I could use my expertise in personalised medicine and data analytics to benefit patients while also assisting clinicians, researchers, and healthcare payers, so in 2012 I started Px, which stands for ‘patient experience’, to develop smart digital tools like mobile apps to support people with cancer. I teamed up with my tech-minded physician brother to create OWise, a mobile app and website that gives people with breast cancer the personalised support they need, and that enables them to share their anonymised treatment data to improve personal and clinical outcomes in cancer.
My journey continues to be both challenging and rewarding. I love to see the immediate impact that OWise has on people’s lives, and it’s exciting to be in such a dynamic field, where I’m constantly pushing every part of the healthcare sector to deliver value to patients and improve clinical cancer outcomes.
What were the triggers and sources of inspiration that launched you on your journey? Did anyone particularly inspire you? (Man or woman)
Speaking with a friend who was diagnosed with cancer really showed me what an incredibly difficult time people go through after a cancer diagnosis, and how important it is that they have access to the right support.
From day one with OWise, continuous feedback from patients has kept me focused and motivated. For instance, just recently we uncovered that patients in Scotland are likely to underreport their symptoms and side effects, which can be very dangerous; talking with them and with clinicians we decided to adjust the app to encourage patients to call a cancer hotline when the side effects they report require attention.
My inspiration comes from open conversations with people who are experiencing life changing conditions such as cancer. They help us push the boundaries of how healthcare is practiced today to what we think it should be like tomorrow. To instil change in healthcare systems like the NHS is really challenging, but knowing that what we do has such a positive impact on people who need good care makes all the difference!
Did anyone particularly inspire you? (Man or woman)
I was raised by two inspirational people. My mum was a chemistry teacher and continues to be an outspoken feminist who works tirelessly on causes that are important to her, such as Technica10, a club for girls aged 10+ that introduces them to the sciences and chemical experiments, and a course she developed for young parents called Chemistry for Babies! In addition to getting girls interested in science, she also trains people who experienced World War II to tell their stories in primary schools.
My dad is the main reason I became a scientist. His enthusiasm, intellect and passion for scientific medical research were too much to resist.
Do you think being a woman made it harder or easier as an entrepreneur?
Every entrepreneur has their war stories. The key to success is resiliency, sheer determination, and the unwavering conviction that what you’re doing is important. In an ideal world that would be all you need, but there are gender disparities in every sector that have to be rectified. We need more women in health tech, and we have to ensure that we support them when the going gets tough.
What is your ‘special power’ that you use when you need to get around a challenge?
When I’m stuck, I always take a few steps back to approach the issue from another side. I find the best way to do this is to literally take some steps: I go for a walk and give myself the room I need to view things from different perspectives.
How do you relax? What do you do to recharge?
I love cycling, especially when it brings me into the mountains and to the sea. Road cycling in the French Alps is challenging--including finding the time to do it!--but the combination of giving more than you have to climb a mountain, surrounded by great beauty, with the reward a wonderful descent, is just magical. It’s a bit like overcoming a problem at work: Once you get there, you feel like you can do anything.
Live music, especially jazz, is another one of my favourite ways to relax. Any issues I can’t shake just seem to dissolve when I’m watching musicians using their talents to create something wonderful.
What advice would you give a 14-year-old girl knowing what you know now? What would you say to your younger self when you first started to think about "what do I want to be when I grow up?
Find out what you really enjoy. Personally, I’m always delighted when I hear about kids with an interest in health and life science technology, because science and technology aren’t just fascinating and rewarding, they’re also a lot of fun. But the most important thing is to find something that you love doing and then go for it!
Do you think the future looks good for women in health tech? Why? Why not? What you think is exciting ahead? What exciting projects/innovations do you have in the pipeline?
Increasingly, women’s voices are being heard and, more importantly, valued. We need more role models, particularly those implementing solid science in health tech and we need to actively nurture that. But I see more and more women being active and successful in health tech now. I’m really positive about the future.
I’m very excited about my next project, which builds on the success of OWise for people with breast cancer: We have had a lot of demand from both patients and clinicians to develop OWise to support all people with cancer. Just this month have started the development of the second generation of OWise that will offer personalised support to people with any type of cancer.