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Voice biomarker device could diagnose depression, heart disease

Sonde Health raises $16m in series A round

Sonde

Technology that detects ‘vocal biomarkers’ from just a few seconds of speech could soon help speed up diagnosis of conditions such as depression and heart disease, which could otherwise be missed by humans.

That’s the promise of Sonde Health, a US-based company, which has just raised $16m in a series A financing round to fund the technology’s development.

Boston, Mass-based Sonde Health is an affiliate of PureTech Health, which has become well known for its championing of novel ‘left field’ solutions to major health challenges, such as novel medicines which target dysfunctions of the Brain-Immune-Gut (BIG) axis.

Founded in 2015, Sonde health intends to use the funds to expand its voice analysis technology (originally licensed from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory) across multiple health conditions.

The company’s technology extracts hundreds of proprietary, non-linguistic vocal characteristics from short snippets of recorded speech. The technology then measures subtle changes in pitch, hoarseness, rate of speech and other metrics imperceptible to most listeners and uses them as biomarkers to assess health.

Sonde says its main focus is on depression, as well as a number of other mental health, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions where it believes remote, passive monitoring could help identify health problems sooner.

The company envisages a range of everyday consumer devices, such as smartphones and smart speakers, to help detect and manage conditions - all based on acoustic analysis of just a few seconds’ sample of an individual’s voice.

Jim Harper

Sonde Health's Jim Harper

“One of the oldest tools in our health care arsenal, the thermometer, is arguably still one of the most valuable because of its simplicity and widespread availability outside the clinical setting,” said Jim Harper, co-founder and chief operating officer of Sonde Health.

“Our longstanding vision has been to harness the health information present in billions of daily voice interactions to create a 21st century thermometer, or ‘vocometer’, that provides broad digital healthcare decision support needed to enable new models of precision and preventative medicine.”

The financing round was led by M Ventures (the corporate venture capital arm of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany), with MP Healthcare Venture Management (the corporate venture capital arm of Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma), Neoteny 4, LP, Canepa Healthcare, and founder PureTech Health all participating as well.

Sonde says it has collected voice and health data from over 10,000 subjects as part of the ongoing validation of its platform. It says it will now expand its research into neurological, respiratory, and cardiovascular diseases and other health and wellness conditions.

Eric Elenko, PhD, chief innovation officer at PureTech Health, said: “Sonde is pioneering an entirely new approach to health care with its proprietary platform. Their technology is designed to efficiently detect early signs of illness and monitor for changes in health using just a few seconds of voice. It’s an exciting approach with the potential to improve treatments and outcomes across a wide range of diseases, and we’re pleased to have a strong group of investors take it forward.”

Sonde is not the only company pursuing the voice analysis concept for health.  CompanionMx launched a mobile mental-health monitoring system called Companion last year. The tool was developed with funding from the US government health agencies, and uses AI to analyse voice recording of patients with established mental health problems, monitoring for any deterioration in their mood.

The news comes just days after Amazon unveiled its first partnerships in healthcare using its voice-controlled Alexa service, bringing much closer the vision of digital devices helping to monitor and manage health conditions.

11th April 2019

From: Research

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