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November 19, 2018
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Health

Ezra raises $4M to diagnose cancer with MRIs, not painful biopsies

in Artificial Intelligence/cancer/Delhi/eCommerce/ezra/funding/Fundings & Exits/Health/India/Politics/TC by

1 in 41 men will die of prostate cancer. But sticking a needle through your rectum into your prostate to screen for cancer brings along a ton of bacteria and terrible side effects like pain, infection, urinary trouble, and even erectile dysfunction. It turns out you can detect cancer with Magnetic Resonance Imaging…it’s just prohibitively expensive to do one-off MRIs and have radiologists analyze the scans. But by buying MRI slots in bulk and using artificial intelligence to scan them, a new medtech startup called Ezra wants to replace blood tests and biopsies with MRIs as the new standard of care.

Today, Ezra launches v1 of its MRI prostate cancer screening subscription service in New York City. For $999 per year, patients get one MRI, access to medical staff and educational guides, and on-going support if the test finds they have cancer. For now, human radiologists still analyze the scans. However, Ezra is working to get FDA approval next year for its AI analysis that’s was initially found to be 90 percent as accurate as medical experts, and could turn Ezra into a lucrative and scalable medtech company.

Comparing Radiologist and AI detection of cancer in MRI scans

“One of the biggest problems in cancer is that there’s no accurate, fast, painless, way to scan for cancer anywhere in the body” says Ezra co-founder and CEO Emi Gal. He hopes that eventually, Ezra could offer full-body MRIs that make screening for all types of cancer easier to stomach so more cases can be caught early and more patients can survive.

To build out its team and market to potential patients at risk for prostate cancer, Ezra is also announcing it’s raised a $4 million seed round led by Accomplice, the health-focused VC that funded PillPack before it was acquired by Amazon for nearly $1 billion. The firm was attracted by Ezra’s 50 percent gross margin on subscriptions that could get even higher at lower subscription prices once its AI is approved. “We’re not losing money every sale” Gal tells me. And while $999 might sound steep, he says a prostate MRI will cost you $1500 if you book it yourself.

With 30 million men in the US alone at risk of prostate cancer, there’s urgent need for Ezra to fulfill its mission of “making MRI-based cancer screening affordable to everyone.”

Ezra’s Super Hero Origin

Gal has one of those startup founder super hero origin stories that gives him the grit necessary to see the problem through. “I developed hundreds of moles as a child that put me at very high risk of melanoma. Every year I’ve had to check for abnormalities and do a couple of biopsies” he candidly revealed. “I’ve been acutely aware of the importance of cancer screening since a young age.”

Ezra co-founder and CeO Emi Gal

After studying computer science and applied math in his home country of Romania, he built an adtech company at age 20 and sold it at 30. While working with terminally ill cancer patient charity Hospices Of Hope, he seized on the need for better cancer screenings and began his research about different methods. “The more scientists I spoke to, the more convinced I became to build a new screening modality” he recalls.

Typically, prostate cancer screenings involve a blood test for prostate-specific antigen, with an needle-through-the-rectum biopsy done if PSA levels are elevated. But PSA levels can be inaccurate, triggering painful and unnecessary biopsies. Gal discovered a recent study by a leading urologist that looked at 500 patients with some diagnosed the traditional way, and some with an MRI that when cancer is detected is then used to guide a biopsy. The latter method identified 18 percent more cases of cancer while reducing unnecessary biopsies and the associated side effects by 27 percent, the study found. MRIs could work.

So Ezra conducted its own investigation to see if AI could perform as well as a radiologist. It had three experts mark up a data set from the National Institute Of Health and trained its AI on the data set through the work of Gal’s co-founder Diego Canto, a PhD in deep learning applied to MRI. They found the AI was 90 accurate at agreeing with the experts on a new data set. Now an FDA regulatory expert on the team is trying to get the AI approved to assist radiologists to lower Ezra’s labor costs.

Magnetic Resonance Innovation

Rather than wait around, Ezra has partnered with the leading MRI facility network RadNet. It buys MRI time slots in bulk for a cheaper rate, starting with a location in Lenox Hill, Manhattan. Next year it will expand to more RadNet locations beyond New York City. If the AI gets approval, there’ll still be human medical experts involved. The AI eliminates the grunt work of doing measurements and annotating MRI scans so the human can focus on just making the cancer/not cancer call. And if the diagnosis sadly is positive, “What we don’t want to do is just drop a report on people that says ‘you likely have cancer’. We want to help with the treatment process and recommend the best urologists” Gal tells me.

A study found AI to agree with medical experts on prostate cancer detection 90 percent of the time

The combination of hard technology and the booming direct-to-consumer industry drew the $4 million round that also includes Founders Future, Credo Ventures, Seedcamp, Esther Dyson and a number of startup founders and angel investors like SoundCloud co-founder Alex Ljung. They see Ezra as differentiated from expensive overall health screening services like the $25,000 Human Longevity Inc. “Ezra’s uniqueness stands as much in the company’s investigational AI technology as it does in its innovative consumer-centric cancer screening model” says John Crues, M.D. RadNet’s Medical Director.

But the biggest threat to Ezra is insurance. If it can’t convince insurers that MRIs that are expensive up front but could be more accurate with fewer complications are more capital efficient long-term than the biopsy status quo, it may have a very tough time getting people to pay $1000 out of pocket. It will also have to find the right balance of margins and affordability that insurers will tolerate. “We want to focus on building a data set that proves [MRIs] are more accurate, less painful, and faster than that the standard of care” Gal concludes. If it can institute MRIs as the new standard for prostate screenings, Ezra will be on its way to offering a single painless test that could spot cancer early enough that it can be beaten. Cancer will kill 9.6 million people this year. It doesn’t have to be that way.

News Source = techcrunch.com

RFID stickers could signal contaminated food

in Delhi/Health/India/machine learning/MIT/Politics/RFID/Science/TC by

If a food item isn’t safe to eat, it’s best to find that out before someone eats it. But manual testing of every jar and bottle isn’t possible, even when a threat, like the recent baby food scare, is known. MIT researchers have found a way to check many items instantly, non-invasively, and from a distance — using the RFID tags many products already have.

RFID, or radio frequency identification, uses a tiny antenna embedded in a sticker or label that’s activated and powered by radio waves at a very specific frequency. When a transceiver sends out a 950Mhz signal, the RFID tag wakes up and re-transmits a slightly different signal identifying itself. Products that announce themselves? Convenient for doing inventory!

What the researchers found was that this return signal, outside the actual information-bearing part, can be affected by the actual contents of the product, since the radio waves have to pass through them. Consequently, a jar full of pasta sauce and one full of olives would produce different signal profiles — as would an untouched jar of baby food compared with one contaminated with melamine.

“It’s almost as if we have transformed cheap RFIDs into tiny radio frequency spectroscopes,” said Fadel Adib, co-author of the paper describing the new system, in an MIT news release.

The problem is that these differences can be very minor and it’s not like they’ve been documented anywhere — this is the first time anyone’s tried this. So naturally, the team turned to machine learning. They trained up a model that can tell with confidence what a signal profile corresponds to, with the minor variations that come from, say, slight differences in orientation or glass width.

Right now the system, which they call RFIQ, can tell the difference between pure and melamine-contaminuted baby formula, and between various adulterations of pure ethyl alcohol. That’s pretty much everything my shopping list so I’m set, but obviously the team would like to have it apply to many more products. Now that the method has been shown to work, that’s the plan.

The task will only get harder, as things like environmental variables (shelves) and other wireless interference add to the problem. But machine learning algorithms are good at plucking signal out of the noise, so with luck the technique will work without too much trouble.

You can read the full paper documenting the RFIQ system here (PDF).

News Source = techcrunch.com

Wynd announces a new air purifier and desktop monitor

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As far as goals for hardware startups go, you could do worse than ridding the air of allergens, pollutants and the like. Launched in 2016 as a Kickstarter project, Wynd is going back to the crowdfunding well this week for two new hardware products.

Wind Halo is a pretty nice-looking (from the press material) desktop air monitor featuring a set of 10 sensors. In fact, the design language on the thing really brings to mind the Echo Spot — still arguably the nicest-looking of Amazon’s Alexa devices.

The system relies on a technology Wynd calls Air ID, which “blends raw hardware sensor data with machine learning and cloud contextual information,” according to the company. That’s all buzzword-speak for the fact that the hardware utilizes readings to provide both metrics and a breakdown of what’s in the air, including pollen, smoke and smog.

Of course, knowing what’s in the air isn’t much use unless you can actually do something about it. For that, Wynd’s finally introducing a full-size counterpart to it is desktop purifier. The Wynd Home Purifier responds to readings from the Halo and adjusts accordingly. According to the startup, it should be able to clean a 1,200-square-foot space in around half an hour, filtering out allergens, mold, bacteria and various pollutants.

There’s also an auto mode for those who don’t care to invest in both devices. The Halo and Home Purifier run $89 and $239, respectively, and are set to start shipping in May. Both will work with Alexa and Apple HomeKit.

News Source = techcrunch.com

WeRecover, the Kayak for addiction recovery, raises $2M

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Approximately 90 percent of people in need of rehabilitation services for drug and alcohol abuse don’t have access to them, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey. Why? Often, because they don’t know where to look.

Santa Monica-based WeRecover wants to fill that information gap with its Kayak-like online booking engine for rehab centers. The startup’s matching algorithm pairs people with an accredited rehab center with open beds, tailored to that person’s budget, insurance, clinical needs and location. The goal is to make it easier for anyone seeking treatment for themselves or otherwise to quickly discover and secure a spot at a facility, streamlining what can be a daunting and logistically complicated process that prevents people from receiving the care they need.

Today, WeRecover is announcing another $2 million fundraise led by Crosslink Capital, bringing its total venture capital backing to $4.5 million. Box Group, Wonder Ventures, Struck Capital and others also participated in the round.

“It’s a really obvious idea … but truly no entrepreneurs anywhere were working to build a marketplace for addiction recovery centers,” WeRecover co-founder and chief executive officer Stephen Estes told TechCrunch. “There’s an overwhelming need for a simpler way to connect with patients.”

WeRecover co-founder and chief executive officer Stephen Estes.

Founded in 2016 by Estes and Max Jaffe, WeRecover has rapidly grown from connecting a few hundred people seeking treatment per month to roughly 4,000 users last month. The startup now provides information on 11,000 treatment centers in 29 states. The goal is to have at least 1 program listed in every state by the end of 2018. Currently, most of the programs the company tracks are located in California, Florida, Arizona and Colorado.

Estes said the WeRecover database is the most comprehensive database of free, nonprofit and state-funded treatment programs in existence, simply because no one had set out to aggregate this particular set of information until now.

The startup plans to use the latest round of venture financing to continue hunting down treatment centers to add to its database, expand its 16-person team and, eventually, Estes said, WeRecover would like to craft and integrate content into the experience.

“We play a really important role in somebody’s journey,” he said. “They find treatment through us and we are part of one of the most important decisions they make in their life, so we should keep them engaged. We do think there’s room to build an app to help people sustain their sobriety and connect them with their peers.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Meditation app Simple Habit raises $10 million Series A

in Apps/Delhi/Health/India/meditation/Politics/Recent Funding/Simple Habit/Startups by

Five-minute meditation app Simple Habit announced today that it has raised a $10 million Series A, led by Foundation Capital. The round brings the developer’s total funding up to $12.5 million, following a $2.5 million seed last year.

The Shark Tank alum has been kicking since 2016, the result of CEO and co-founder Yunha Kim’s attempt to build a kind of “Spotify for Meditation.” The startup graduated Y Combinator in April of last year and has made a large push to increase available content.

The company has received praise for its focus on helping users incorporate short meditation sessions into their busy lives. And certainly the time is pretty ideal if you happen to be a mindfulness app in search of some serious VC. 

Most of the reception has been positive, and according to numbers provided to TechCrunch by SensorTower, Simple Habit was the third most popular meditation app in the iOS App Store for Q3 2018. The app trails only Calm and Headspace in terms of both downloads and revenue.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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