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Blood tests are generally unpleasant — not to mention costly. On average, getting blood work done at a lab costs uninsured patients between $100 and $1,500. And in the developing world, where the requisite equipment isn’t always readily available, ancillary costs threaten to drive the price substantially higher.
That’s why Yossi Pollak, previously at Intel subsidiary Mobileye, and Daniel Levner, a former scientist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, founded Sight Diagnostics in 2011. They claim its desktop Olo system can perform “lab-grade,” point-of-care complete blood count (CBC) tests within ten minutes with no more than a pinprick of blood. It’s already available for purchase in much of the European Union, where Sight has obtained the necessary health and safety certification. And now, the Tel Aviv startup is raising money to deploy it globally.
Sight today announced that it has raised $27.8 million in series C financing led by Longliv Ventures, a division of multinational conglomerate CK Hutchison Group, and existing investors OurCrowd, Go Capital, and New Alliance Capital, along with strategic investors Jack Nicklaus II, a health care philanthropist; Steven Esrick; and an unnamed “major” medical equipment manufacturer. It brings Sight’s total capital raised to $52.8 million.
Sarah Levy, Sight’s CTO, says the influx of cash will be used to support the company’s regulatory efforts in the U.S., and to further its research and development toward expanding its blood test offerings.
“After proving our technology in malaria detection, it became overwhelmingly clear to us that the CBC, the world’s most common blood test, is where we’d make the most impact,” Levy said. “The ability to create rich digital images of blood samples and analyze them in minutes has enormous potential to improve diagnostics and patient care. This funding round will also allow us to expand our R&D activities to develop applications beyond CBC.”
Olo, which is about the size of a toaster oven, leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to process scans. It first “digitizes” blood into colored microscope images, and then runs sophisticated computer vision algorithms (trained on half a petabyte of anonymized data from four years of clinical studies) that identify and count cell types in a sample.
CBCs probe for a range of disorders including infection, anemia, and certain cancers. Typical tests can take days, and require a specialist to administer. Sight claims that Olo, by contrast, is simple enough for a layperson to operate, and that it’s robust enough to account for small inaccuracies and errors that might occur in slide preparation.
“The idea of digitizing blood has always been a difficult problem,” Levner said. “Creating a flat layer of millions of billions of cells on a glass slide has always been a difficult problem. We think that anyone should be able to run the test, so we tried to make it as simple as possible.”
A single device that can perform a slew of tests on a prick of blood was the promise of Theranos, a diagnostics startup that was found to have misled investors about its tech’s capabilities and whose founders were charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But Sight is proceeding cautiously — and transparently.
In early 2018, its Olo system completed a 287-person clinical trial at Israel’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, leading to a CE Mark registration from the European Union. Pitted against a Sysmex XN-Series lab hematology analyzer, Olo “surpassed … targets” for equivalency across 19 CBC parameters and a number of diagnostic flags, Sight says.
The company also says that the tech on which Olo is largely based has been used to conduct more than 600,000 tests for malaria in 25 countries.
Olo has since been deployed in several European health care systems and is undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital. Sight hopes to recruit at least 500 participants for the stateside study, which is employing eight different Olo units.
“Previous blood analyzers aimed at in-office testing have involved clinical compromises and are difficult to operate or maintain,” Dr. Carlo Brugnara, the director of the Hematology Lab at the Boston Children’s Hospital, said earlier this year.
The goal is to obtain Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2019 — initially a 510(k) approval, which would allow Olo to operate in CLIA certified clinics, and subsequently a CLIA waiver, which would bring it to small clinics and private practices. They also plan to publish the results of the most recent clinical trial in a peer-reviewed journal.
As far as the next few years are concerned, Sight is experimenting with the idea of a cloud service that could facilitate remote scans. However, it’s not committing to a rollout just yet.
“It’s true that when you digitize the images, you can process patients at point of care, which could lead to improved follow-up testing,” Levner said. “We’re contemplating these kinds of models, but we’re trying to be regimented about what we do.”
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