Sight Diagnostics, which is deploying an AI-powered blood analysis machine, this week nabbed $71 million in funding. This more than doubles the startup’s total raised, and a spokesperson says it will be used to accelerate Sight’s operations globally — with a focus on the U.S. — as it advances R&D for the detection of conditions like sepsis and cancer, as well as factors affecting COVID-19.
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. 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 their Olo system can perform “lab-grade” point-of-care complete blood count (CBC) tests within 10 minutes, using only two drops of blood. Olo is already available for purchase in much of the EU and U.S., where Sight has obtained the necessary health and safety certifications. In late 2019, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Sight 510(k) approval that allows CLIA-certified clinics (but not point-of-care providers) to deploy Olo.
Olo, which is about the size of a toaster oven, leverages AI and machine learning to process blood scans. It first “digitizes” blood into over 1,000 high-resolution colored microscope images, and then it runs computer vision algorithms trained on half a petabyte of anonymized data from four years of clinical studies that identify and count cell types.
Sight claims that in contrast to traditional tests requiring a specialist and days to process, Olo is simple enough for a layperson to operate. It’s also ostensibly robust enough to account for inaccuracies and errors that might occur in slide preparation.
Infamous diagnostics startup Theranos also promised to deliver a single device that could perform a slew of tests on a prick of blood. But the company was found to have misled investors about its tech’s capabilities, and its founders were charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Sight is proceeding more cautiously — and transparently. In early 2018, Sight’s 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 also claims the tech on which Olo is largely based — Parasight — has been used to conduct more than a million tests for malaria in 24 countries.
Thus far, Sight claims to have secured agreements with health providers and pharmaceutical companies — including Pfizer — to deploy 1,000 analyzers over the coming year. Oxford University Hospital Trust is evaluating Olo in both its surgical emergency unit and oncology clinic. Recently, Sight signed a distribution agreement for Olo in Italy and will launch a pilot with U.K.-based Superdrug to bring testing to the retailer’s clinics. In response to the pandemic, Sight hopes to deploy a pop-up testing service in London that will combine a full blood count test with a COVID-19 antibody test, following the announcement of Sheba Tel Hashomer and Sheba Medical Center collaborations to process CBC results in a dedicated lab designed to mitigate contamination risk.
Sight has yet to publish peer-reviewed results of its clinical trials for Olo. The company says it had a publication pending in a peer-reviewed journal in July 2018 but decided to combine the results from the Israel trials with those completed in the U.S. at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Tricore Labs, and Boston Children’s Hospital for “a more robust publication.” The company expects to focus on publication as it pursues a CLIA waiver from the FDA to certify Olo for use in smaller U.S. medical practices and pharmacies.
Sight is experimenting with the idea of a cloud service that could facilitate remote scans in the next few years. It also envisions developing Olo into a platform capable of running a slew of blood tests, with each test added individually after “independent clinical validation.”
Koch Disruptive Technologies, Longliv Ventures, and OurCrowd led the series D investment, which brings the company’s capital raised to more than $124 million. Sight has offices in the U.K., the U.S., and Israel.