Sight, touch and even smell are intuitive and largely scientifically-backed tools used to diagnose disease, and researchers are even evaluating the clinical potential of breath analysis. Sound — the final frontier — has been gaining traction as a health care tool, and Boston-based biotech Sonde is in the mix, working on developing consumer-friendly technology to discern illness by analysing subtle changes in voice.
On Thursday, the company said it had secured $16 million in a series A round led by the corporate venture capital arm of Germany’s Merck, M Ventures, to shepherd its technology — which is designed to arm consumer devices, (including smartphones and smart speakers) with the tools to detect disease using voice — across the finish line.
“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. Our longstanding vision has been to harness the health information present in billions of daily voice interactions to create a 21st century…‘vocometer’” said CEO Jim Harper in a statement.
Sonde’s technology, which is currently being tested in human subjects in India, is aimed to work by sensing and analyzing subtle changes in the voice to create a range of persistent brain, muscle, and respiratory health measurements that render a snapshot of health. So far, the company has collected data from over 10,000 subjects.
The round also included the participation of VC arm of Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma (MP Healthcare Venture Management), Neoteny 4, LP, Canepa Healthcare, and founder PureTech Health.
Sonde is hardly the only company looking into harnessing the potential of using sound to detect disease, a slate of other researchers are working on similar projects: including Humboldt University spinoff PeakProfiling — which inspired by musicology — is developing algorithms designed to detect emotional states and physical conditions from sound data. The US army joined forces with MIT in 2016 to construct computer algorithms to identify vocal biomarkers that could help diagnose mild traumatic brain injury or concussions. Israel-based Beyond Verbal is also working voice-enabled AI solutions to vocal biomarkers for personalized healthcare screening.
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