Artificial Intelligence and machine learning have seeped into almost every aspect of human lives, including healthcare, and life sciences. Perhaps the most beneficial implementation of AI in healthcare is the early-detection of life-endangering diseases such as cancer, heart diseases, and other neurological disorders. In healthcare, time is crucial. Early diagnostics lead to timely treatment; thereby saving lives. Combining machine learning with blood diagnostics to deliver faster and efficient point-of-care testing is what Tel Aviv-based Sight Diagnostics is striving to achieve, and it just raised $71 million (€60.2 million approx) in Series D funding.
Sight Diagnostics’ Series D
Sight Diagnostics is an Israeli medical device startup that uses machine vision and AI to offer point-of-care blood diagnostics, including Complete Blood Count (CBC), at the doctor’s office itself; with the test results made available within a few minutes.
The company raised funding, with participation from Koch Industries, OurCrowd, and other strategic investors. With this new round, SightDX’s total funding will be pushed to over $124 million (nearly €105 million). Last year, the startup raised $27.8 million (approximately €25 million) in Series C funding round led by an Israeli VC firm Longliv Ventures.
According to Yossi Pollak, CEO and founder of Sight Diagnostics, the fresh funds will support the expansion of the startup’s commercial operations globally – with a specific focus on the US – and promote its R&D effort into the detection of new diseases as well as the blood factors affecting COVID-19 severity. It also plans to expand its team in the US, UK, and Israel, as well as scale its manufacturing capacity.
The sight of blood under the microscope
Founded in 2011, Sight Diagnostics began its journey with Parasight – its first product, which was used to detect malaria in almost 1 million tests across 24 countries. Its flagship product is the Sight OLO analyser, which automates the identification and counting of different blood cell types and anomalies. According to the startup, Sight OLO delivers lab-grade complete blood count (CBC) results by measuring 19 different blood parameters in minutes from either a fingerstick or a venous sample.
The startup also claims to use just two drops of a patient’s blood for the diagnostics. Once the blood is drawn from the patient’s finger, it is placed into a disposable test-kit cartridge, which is then inserted into the Sight OLO analyser. It uses a patented method of digitising blood samples, known as Live Monolayer Imaging (LMI) for creating a monolayer of live cells.
The sample is put under a powerful digital microscope and instead of a person looking at the sample, this imaging system produces over 1,000 highly detailed images of the blood sample. This is then analysed by proprietary machine learning algorithms, to measure, classify and count the different blood cells and identify abnormalities in the blood. According to Sight Diagnostics, results are provided in minutes.
The lifeblood of SightDx
Pollak came up with the idea for Sight Diagnostics while he was working with Mobileye, focusing on computer vision for self-driving cars. In 2017, Mobileye was acquired by Intel Intel Corporation for $15 billion. He co-founded the company with Dr. Daniel Levner, an expert in diagnostics, instrument development, and cell biology and a former scientist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
Pollak was also a member of the elite Talpiot program – Israel Defense Forces (IDF) training program. The startup’s CTO is Sarah Levy Schrier, who was Pollak’s Commander in the IDF.
Headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel, the company also has offices in London and the US. According to Pollak, SightDX has over 100 employees, across three continents, largely consisting of computer vision experts, medical professionals, and AI researchers.
The company makes its revenue by selling Sight OLO to hospitals, health providers, point-of-care facilities, among others. Talking about the company’s growth, Pollak says, “We’ve seen significant traction in the last few months, including a 5x year over year increase in revenue this year, as well as signed contractual agreements with healthcare providers and distribution partners to deploy 1000+ analysers over the coming years.”
Startups across the world are assisting the governments and scientists by offering their technology, infrastructure, and coming up with innovative solutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Sight Diagnostics too is playing its part in battling the virus. “We believe blood can reveal critical information about diseases, and we’re applying this line of thought to COVID. We’re currently running a research program with top Israeli hospitals to analyse the blood of COVID patients for anomalies that may indicate severity or other aspects of the disease,” says Pollak.
Drawing first blood
Although Sight Diagnostics’s technology is proprietary, there are diagnostics companies such as Sysmex and PixCell that are considered as its competitors. However, according to Pollak, the fact that Sight OLO is the only analyser that’s FDA 510(k) cleared to run CBC tests directly from a fingerpick sample of blood is a key differentiating factor for SightDx. He claims that other analysers require a higher blood volume for each test.
“Sight OLO is also cleared for use with individuals aged 3-months and up, while PixCell is cleared for use on individuals who are 2-years and older. CBC is a very common test for anemia, which every infant needs to get tested for; this is a clear advantage for Sight,” he states.
The company also claims that the portability and fast turnaround time of Sight OLO works in its favour, since traditional CBC devices are larger, difficult to operate, draw a significant amount of blood from a patient, and takes time to deliver the results. “Sight OLO is the size of a toaster oven (about a cubic foot) and the test kit is approximately the same size as a credit card, making Sight OLO easy to transport,” says Pollak.
EDITOR’S NOTE: PixCell contacted to inform Silicon Canals that their HemoScreen is FDA cleared to run blood samples from a finger prick as well. Further, under the CE-mark in Europe and in Israel (and soon to be announced in further markets), PixCell’s HemoScreen can be used form the age of 2 months and up. Further, their company is cleared for point of care operations by the FDA.
Image credits: Sight Diagnostics
Interview by Akansha Srivastava