Microsoft vs. Google: Hot start to 2018 for investments in machine learning and precision medicine startups

The tech giants both participated in a VC round and three days later, each had also invested in another emerging company with cutting-edge technology tailored for healthcare.
By Tom Sullivan
09:44 AM
google vs microsoft

It’s no secret that Google and Microsoft are archrivals in the consumer and enterprise IT space. Think: search engines, productivity apps and email, infrastructure-as-a-service in the cloud, even news, tech-related and otherwise. Indeed, hospital executives following their moves throughout 2017 are also keenly aware that both titans turned their scopes toward healthcare more than ever before. 

What’s more, they’ve been doing so in ways that only companies with R&D and M&A pockets billions of dollars deep can dream about. 

Google, for its part, plunked down $500 million to buy DeepMind in 2014 followed by Moodstocks in 2016, to name two. Microsoft has been on its own spending spree these last couple years, including Hexadite, Equivio, Maluuba, Wand Labs, as examples. 

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[2017: The year AI and machine learning took hold in healthcare]

Those acquired startups do not just target healthcare specifically, of course, but they’re notable for rounding out the artificial intelligence, machine learning, cognitive computing and natural language processing portfolios Google and Microsoft are amassing and, in turn, offering to hospitals, academic medical centers, insurance companies and health IT innovators. 

Now, on the second day of 2018, each company distinctly partook in a $58 million funding round into precision medicine upstart DNAnexus and its cloud-based platform for machine learning and sharing biomedical and genomics information. 

That deal listed Microsoft as a “strategic investment” and GV (formerly Google Ventures) as an existing investor. Microsoft on Thursday made an investment in Adaptive Biotechnologies, an arrangement in which the Redmond, Washington giant also “made a substantial financial investment,” to undertake the ambitious task of decoding the human immune system by tapping into Microsoft’s AI technologies and machine learning algorithms in lockstep with Adaptive’s biotechnologies capabilities. 

Also on Thursday, Google made its own investment by joining a $40 million round raised by mental health specialist Quartet. That company said it will use the money to advance the core engineering capabilities of its platform for connecting physical and mental care services by expanding its machine learning team and continuing to grow its provider network spanning primary care, behavioral health and patient platforms. 
The score at the end of this first week of 2018? 

Actually, it’s a tie: 1-1 plus one investment in common. 

The short-term winners are in all likelihood Adaptive, DNAnexus and Quartet, in which particular order remains to be seen, while over the long-haul and with any luck, hospitals and perhaps even patients will benefit should Google, Microsoft and their rivals including Amazon, Apple and IBM continue pumping money into acquisitions and startups alike that advance AI, machine learning, precision medicine and other next-gen healthcare advancements. 

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