Medopad, the U.K. startup that has been working with Tencent to develop AI-based methods for building and tracking "digital" biomarkers -- measurable indicators of the progression of illnesses and diseases that are picked up not with blood samples or in-doctor visits but using apps and wearables -- has announced another round of funding to expand the scope of its developments.
The startup has picked up $25 million, led by pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, which will be working together with Medopad to build digital biomarkers and therapeutics related to heart health. Separately, Medopad is also working on developing diagnostics to track biomarkers related to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes.
The Series B is being made at a post-money valuation of between $200 million and $300 million. In addition to Bayer, Hong Kong firm NWS Holdings and Chicago VC Healthbox also participated. All three are previous investors, with NWS leading its $28 million Series A in 2018, bringing the total raised by Medopad to more than $50 million.
The bump in valuation -- Medopad had a $110 million post-money valuation after its previous round -- also comes on the heels of the company last year signing high-profile deals totaling some $140 million with a string of firms in China, including Tencent, Ping An, as well as the Chinese divisions of GSK, Johnson & Johnson and more.
The world where medicine mixes with tech in the name of doing things faster, better and with less expense had a big knock with the rise and calamitous fall of Theranos. The blood-testing startup claimed to have developed technology to perform a multitude of tests tracking biomarkers using only a few drops of blood -- tests that used to require significantly more blood (and expense) to run accurately. Great concept, if only it weren't a scam.
Medopad also tracks biomarkers, but it's taking a very different, non-invasive route to building its solutions. The company constructs its algorithms and tests working with pharmaceutical and tech partners to build solutions end-to-end, leaning on advances in software and hardware to fulfill ideas that have been unattainable goals for a long time.
"For the past 25 years, we have been talking about connected healthcare, but no one has done it," CEO Dan Vahdat, who co-founded the company with Rich Khatib, said in an interview. "The nature of the concept has just been too challenging. The approach is established but the computing and device technology weren't able to detect and read these things outside of hospital settings."
In one example, a classic Parkinson's test would have required a patient to go to a doctor's office for a 30-minute assessment to determine how a patient is walking. In recent times, with the advent of advanced computer vision and far better sensors on devices, a new category of digital biomarkers, as Vahdat describes them, are being created -- for example, by tracking how a person is walking to measure her/his gait and other metrics -- to provide similar guidance to a clinician on the patient's progress.
"These can be collected, for example, based on how you walk and talk, along with other vital signs," he said.
The startup is also working with teaching hospitals to build other clinical trials. For example, it has a partnership with the Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton to better track aortic stenosis, when heart valves narrow and restrict blood flow.
“This is a very exciting project and fits with our ethos of ‘proactive’ and ‘one to many care’ which, we think, will benefit patients and release valuable clinical time," said Professor James Cotton at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, in a statement.
Longer term, it's also working with Janssen (a division of Johnson & Johnson) on a possible way of tracking early signs and progress of Alzheimer's by way of cognitive tests that someone can take at home.
Medopad has a healthy approach to the work it is doing reminiscent of the kind of collaboration that is typical in the world of science.
"We won't claim that we can do what others can't, but we are using foundations that were built years ago, to discover and commercially deploy solutions via our channel," said Vahdat. He added that Babylon in the U.K. and Collective Health in the U.K. are two companies he admires for taking a similar approach in their respective fields of doctor/patient care and health insurance.
The fact that the company works so closely with Tencent and other Chinese companies is notable at a time when there is a lot of scrutiny of China and how its companies may be using or working with personal data in countries like the U.S. and U.K.
Vahdat said that all patient data is only collected with consent, and if any data from Medopad is passed to its partners, it's anonymised. A patient's data, furthermore, does not leave the country in which it is collected.
The Tencent partnership, he added, was largely to help build the company's AI engine, with China's massive population providing a ripe background to train machine learning algorithms.
Medopad's main asset, in any case, is not data, but the algorithms and methods it uses to collect and process digital biomarkers, he added.
"We are a big believer in the fact that data is not our product," Vahdat said. "That is something we are really proud of."