ResApp targeting telehealth with smartphone diagnostics

Newly listed start-up company ResApp Health plans to target the burgeoning telehealth market both here and overseas with its technology, which promises to allow for remote diagnosis of respiratory diseases through a smartphone app.

ResApp has been spun out by the University of Queensland's commercialisation arm UniQuest and recently finalised a reverse listing on the stock exchange. Its former entity, ResApp Diagnostics, was acquired outright by listed biotech firm Narhex Life Sciences, with the latter changing its name and recommencing trade as ResApp Health last week. This followed a capital raising of $4 million in June.

It has an exclusive licence to commercialise technology developed by UQ associate professor of biomedical engineering Udantha Abeyratne, who has developed a machine-learning platform based on an automated algorithm that can use sound to diagnose respiratory conditions such as pneumonia and asthma, without the need for additional hardware.

The technology has been validated in a proof-of-concept trial at an Indonesian paediatric hospital for pneumonia and is currently being trialled at Joondalup Health Campus in Perth in a cohort of 150 patients.

The WA study is focused on gathering data from patients with a variety of respiratory conditions with the aim of further optimising the algorithms for pneumonia and asthma as well as broadening the validation to other common diagnoses such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis and upper respiratory tract conditions. It also has application in COPD. Early results from that trial are due in the next few months.

The technology involves capturing signatures that characterise the respiratory tract, which are extracted from cough and breathing sounds. Signatures are matched in a large database of sound recordings with known clinical diagnoses.

The technology's machine learning tools then find the optimum combination of these signatures to create an accurate diagnostic test or severity measure. The developers say these signatures are consistent across the population and are not specific to an individual so there is no need for a personalised database.

ResApp is now commercialising the technology as a smartphone app that will not require extra hardware. While it is diagnostic technology and will require TGA and US FDA approval, the company says the path to a commercial product will be much faster than with a physical device.

The company is planning a number of different approaches using the technology, from in-consultation diagnosis by doctors over the internet, direct to consumer apps, in-app purchases per diagnostic test, and in the longer term the development of disease management apps.

ResApp Health's CEO Tony Keating said the plan was to have a product on the market in the next 18 months, which would initially be targeted at the burgeoning telehealth sector. He said the company would aim the app at doctors, with direct to consumer sales in the future.

“The way we are commercialising the technology is that we are first commercialising it through a telehealth consultation setting,” Dr Keating said. “In a telehealth consultation you will essentially have a Skype call with your doctor, he will then ask you to cough into the phone, you would cough three or four times into the phone and then on the doctor's screen, at his end, he would get the diagnosis.”

While Australia has a growing telehealth sector, particularly with the development of in-home monitoring devices such as those being marketed by the likes of Telstra and Tunstall, Dr Keating is mainly eyeing up the massive US market.

“In the US there are a bunch of big telehealth providers,” he said. “What we would do is provide our technology to sit alongside their app, so we wouldn't even be delivering our own app, we'd be delivering some algorithms that sit inside the Telstra app or the Teladoc app, which is the big US company.”

There is the potential for the technology to be used by parents for diagnosing bronchitis, whooping cough or pneumonia in their children, but Dr Keating said that was a very long-term possibility and the idea would be that the app would provide a connection to a doctor if the diagnosis was positive.

“It would connect you to a telehealth consultation on the back end of the app rather than the front,” he said. “That could become an option but our first focus is to keep doctors in the loop and basically help them make a better decision over a telehealth consultation.”

There is also a focus on the developing world. Part of the conditions of funding through the Gates Foundation is that technology be provided at an affordable rate to developing nations, which is the application that Dr Abeyrante had in mind when developing the technology in the first place.

“My aim is for it to be implemented on mobile phones and other ubiquitous computing devices, empowering and enhancing patient participation in managing respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, asthma and whooping cough,” he said in a statement.

“Pneumonia alone kills about one million children every year, largely in remote resource-poor regions of the world.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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