The technological innovations spreading across various industries have led to creation of a new vocabulary involving the word “tech”. Just like “fintech” which is widely discussed in recent years for its decentralized nature and potential to reshape the finance industry, “healthtech” refers to the use of technology so as to provide consumers with an easy access to healthcare services.

In the “100-year life” age of longevity, today’s young generation is looking at new solutions for healthy living. One such solution is finding a link between a person’s genomic data and state of health.

Here we talk to Sho Segawa, the head of DeNA Life Science, Inc. and DeSC Healthcare, Inc. which are subsidiaries of software company DeNA, to find out about genetic data based solutions available in the healthcare services. As a company with expertise in mobile games development, DeNA is applying its technology and knowhow to offer healthtech solutions such as genetic testing and health data management.

Sho SegawaBorn in Ehime prefecture. Earned his degree from Osaka University’s Graduate School of Engineering. Joined DeNA Co., Ltd. in 2010. Involved in the launch of a new e-commerce business serving in management position. From May 2015, involved in DeNA’s healthcare project development. In August 2017, becomes executive vice-president and COO of subsidiary company DeNA Life Science, Inc. with focus on healthcare. In April 2018, appointed as DeNA’s executive officer and head of healthcare division, also serving as head of DeNA Life Science, Inc. and DeSC Healthcare, Inc.

Raising awareness of “healthy lifespan”

DeNA’s current healthcare projects include genetic testing service MYCODE, walking app Aruite Otoku, and KenCom service of personalized healthcare advice given based on registered medical records. We ask Mr Segawa about DeNA’s decision to expand into healthcare with focus on genomics.

Segawa: When we started our work in the field of genomics, the DNA sequencing was not a common practice in Japan at the time. Decoding the genome, which is the DNA blueprint for an individual, provides an access to the information needed to build the entire human body. Understanding an individual’s DNA provides an insight into possible adjustments to a person’s lifestyle and habits so as to extend healthy lifespan. Our service aims to help each person improve their wellness by taking a tailored approach to healthcare.

Meanwhile, healthy lifespan refers to the period of time during which a person is able to live independently without relying on medical assistance. This is how Segawa explains the concept of healthy lifespan from his personal experience.

Segawa: A person’s healthy lifespan is said to be ten years shorter than actual lifespan. About ten years ago my grandfather started receiving nursing care, and from this experience I can say that it feels longer than ten years. Therefore, it is imperative to shorten the gap between actual and healthy lifespans. Hopefully we will be able to achieve this to meet the needs of our kids’ generation.

As entertainment services were DeNA’s core business at the time of entering into healthcare, Segawa explains that expanding into a new sector became possible due to the company’s proven knowhow of behavioral change.

Segawa: One of our strengths lies in science of engagement as our knowhow in data analysis and operational skills allow us to attract new users and retain their loyalty.

For example, by analyzing sports fan data for professional baseball team Yokohama DeNA BayStars, we work on developing services which would draw female audiences to the sport of baseball. Considering our accumulated experience in engagement science, we decided to apply our knowhow to healthcare services.

Using our experience in user behavior analysis, we at DeNA aim to find the answer to the question of which services would delight our customers and in turn spur change in behavior.

This way, DeNA’s expertise in data analysis and the employees’ awareness of an important social issue of rising healthcare costs led to the start of a new service.

Why do we need to know personal genome?

Segawa shares with us the challenges of MYCODE development and application. He reveals that the new service in healthcare posed questions similar to the games and entertainment services.

Segawa: “As to game genre, interests vary among Japanese people covering a wide range of themes from wrestling to romance. Therefore, our task is to understand the game players’ needs.

A world-famous game or character may not draw interest from a game player, and such reasoning equally applies to healthcare.

In other words, healthcare services require market segmentation similar to the entertainment sector. “Although “healthy living for all” is an ultimate goal, we have to bear in mind that DNA test is a personal choice,” says Segawa. He also reveals the entertainment aspect of healthcare service.

Segawa: We use our expertise in entertainment to present healthcare data to our customers in enjoyable form. For example, we explain a customer’s DNA-based ancestry through entertaining characters.

To our question about the most challenging part of MYCODE service, this is how Segawa explains.

Segawa: Defining the core value of genomic testing was the hardest part. To accomplish this important task, we asked the opinion of our customers as to how to organize the test results.

This way, DeNA’s staff regularly communicates with its customers both before and after delivering MYCODE results.

Segawa: We receive inquiries from customers who share their worries about DNA results. In response, we have worked on improving the transparency of the test so as to create positive experience and reduce possible anxiety.

In joint research with the Institute of Medical Science, of the University of Tokyo, it has become possible for DeNA to offer customers the information explaining the logic behind genomic data results. Considering there is a wave of comparing the genome test to fortune-telling, the company made an effort to improve users’ understanding of the service. To our question about how Segawa himself sees this service benefiting customers, this is how he explains.

Segawa: I hope that this service would encourage people to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There was a feedback from our customer whose genome data showed higher risk of esophagus cancer, and a medical check-up later confirmed the actual early-stage cancer.

However, this does not mean that people should feel anxious about learning their DNA. Instead, genomic data can be put to use to extend healthy lifespan by improving lifestyle and adjusting habits based on individual traits that such data reveals. We would like the users of our service to feel happy about getting to know their personal genome.


Wellness solutions for everyone in the age of longevity

We ask Segawa what he views as most important in his work of developing healthcare services towards the “100-year life” society.

Segawa: I would point out two characteristics of the services. The first feature is the ease of use in daily life, while the second is health improvement rate.

The ease of use refers to the ability of transitioning to healthy lifestyle through fun activities rather than specialist expertise. Such practice could be compared to learning English when one can easily master the language through communicating to a friend rather than taking language courses.

Our expertise in entertainment sector allows us to develop enjoyable wellness solutions for use in everyday life.

By offering convenient solutions, DeNA hopes more people would adopt and continue healthy habits.

Segawa: The second feature is the service users’ health improvement. Bearing in mind that healthcare costs are forecast to rise to 50 trillion yen, we estimate if there is a fall in disease rate and medical expenses, resulting from the use of our service. We verify such data by analyzing a combination of factors such as medical bills, medicine use, and use of our service.

The second feature, in particular, conveys the company’s mission to promote healthy living and commitment to its customers.


Creating services which make a difference

We ask Mr Segawa which aspects DeNA focuses on when developing its healthtech services and this is how he explains.

Segawa: We focus on our customers’ needs and the solutions we can provide. Meanwhile, the aspects such as market size and applied technology, whether use blockchain or AI, are not our first priority. Our ability to understand which services would help our customers most is what is important.

Finally, we ask Mr Segawa about his ability to take up new challenging tasks such as “genomics for everyone”. He shares with us what he learned from past experience with social commerce.

Segawa: In the past I was involved in the project of social commerce which combines an online store with social media. Being a new phenomenon then, it gained popularity overseas and pledged to reinvent commerce. The trend, however, did not last. This example suggests that we have to base our business decisions on creating real value for society rather than be led by trends. Focus on finding solutions to improve people’s lives spurs us to tackle new tasks.

As some of our readers may be involved in the business of service development, we hope the viewpoint presented in this article would inspire them to set goals similar to DeNA’s “helping people live in good health”, i.e. create services to better the world for all of us.

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