Northwell Health-backed JV invests $100M in AI companies tackling health inequities

NEW YORK, New York—Northwell Health and startup studio Aegis Ventures formed a new joint venture last fall that aims to create novel artificial intelligence tools for patient care.

The JV, called Ascertain, plans to use $100 million to launch multiple AI companies in 2022 to tackle health inequities, with an initial focus on maternal health and chronic disease detection, executives announced Tuesday.

"Northwell Health and Aegis Ventures are forming a first-of-its-kind artificial intelligence venture to drive better, more equitable and lower-cost healthcare," said Tom Manning, chairman of Ascertain, during Northwell Health's Healthcare AI Innovation Summit Tuesday.

The joint venture will bring together leaders in healthcare, academia, life sciences, data science, business and venture capital all under the same roof, Manning said. Ascertain represents a novel, more targeted approach to the way entrepreneurs and healthcare systems collaborate, executives said. The platform combines clinical and business leadership, technical and product teams, access to Northwell’s diverse data sets and capital resources.

The organizations are betting that by combining resources, the JV can address some of the most entrenched quality, equity and cost problems in healthcare better than either organization could alone, executives said.

"It is a bold collaboration to drive AI-backed companies that save lives and resolve long-standing health inequities—and realize results that deliver something greater in healthcare," Manning said.

Ascertain brings $100 million in seed-stage funding and permanent long-term growth capital to systematically launch healthcare AI companies at scale, with a focus on improving quality and access to care and closing health equity gaps.

Northwell Health is New York state’s largest healthcare provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, 830 outpatient facilities and more than 16,600 affiliated physicians. Northwell employs 77,000 people: 18,900 nurses and 4,800 employed doctors, including members of Northwell Health Physician Partners.

"To date, with a few rare exceptions, the vast majority of AI in healthcare has either failed or succeeded for some not but not all," Bill Schoenfeld, Aegis Ventures chairman, said during the event. "When combined, the resources of Northwell Health and Aegis Ventures are unique and extraordinarily powerful and together with the launch of Ascertain we can create AI in healthcare that not only generates substantial improvement in care at a reduced cost, but is also equitable for all."

Northwell Health will leverage Ascertain's resources to improve maternal health, working hand-in-hand with Northwell’s recently launched Center for Maternal Health. The health system wants to develop new approaches to detecting and managing serious complications for expectant mothers and babies. Ascertain’s data science team has been working hand-in-hand with Northwell’s maternal and fetal medicine team to examine tens of thousands of cases of preeclampsia, a hypertensive pregnancy complication that disproportionately affects Black mothers in the U.S.

Preeclampsia, a potentially fatal pregnancy condition characterized by high blood pressure, is 60% more common in Black women than in white women, research shows.

Using cutting-edge data science techniques, the Ascertain team aims to deliver an AI solution that helps clinicians predict the risk of developing preeclampsia, enabling them to intervene earlier than previously possible.

“Existing approaches to the detection of preeclampsia often occur too late in pregnancy, once the condition has begun to manifest. An important enabler for a solution to this challenge is predictive analytics, applying available knowledge of a patient's history to enable action far earlier with simple, yet life-saving, clinical interventions. We believe the AI solution Ascertain is currently developing will enable this,” said Burt Rochelson, M.D., chief of maternal medicine at Northwell Health, in a statement.


The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on people from some racial and ethnic groups is a stark example of the enduring health disparities in the U.S.

Northwell Health has doubled down on its efforts to address social determinants of health, CEO Michael Dowling said. "We have to go upstream if we're ever going to really change and improve healthcare outcomes. We have to continually improve medical care delivery and the customer and patient is in the middle of everything."

The ethical use of AI innovation can play a role in tackling health inequities, executives said.

"COVID was a catalyst and proved that we could do that we didn’t think we could do before. We can bottle that energy and creativity, and imagine, what progress we can all make," Dowling said, noting the unprecedented challenges and successes in healthcare in the past two years. 

Health system executives also see the value of collaboration and partnerships as other organizations can "bring to the table resources that Northwell may not have," Dowling said.

"The goal here is to leave a legacy of accomplishment and create new businesses and programs that will take us into the future and improve lives, especially for those people who don’t have the access they deserve," Dowling said.