The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is a $10 million dollar, 3.5 year-long prize to develop a sub-5 pound medical device that can measure the 5 vital signs and diagnose 15 common diseases. You can read more about the details of the competition here.
The 10 finalists have recently been announced, and we spoke with Jakob Šušterič, CEO of MESI Medical, one of the final 10, about their solution.
Ben Ouyang, Medgadget: Tell me about MESI Medical.
Jakob Šušterič: MESI was started about 3.5 years ago when our cofounder, a cardiovascular surgeon, saw a problem in peripheral artery disease diagnosis, which required 30 minutes of Doppler imaging and gave user-dependent results. We looked to make this process automatic to improve accuracy, and developed our ABPI MD device, which measures the arterial blood pressure index and suggests a diagnosis in 3 minutes. It’s now used widely across Europe, and it’s enabled our vision of simplifying medical diagnostics. We entered the XPRIZE competition with the idea of our new device.
Medgadget: How does your “Tricorder” work?
Šušterič: It’s composed of many different parts. The main part is the smartphone app, which communicates with the patient. It asks a series of questions about the type, location, and severity of symptoms, as well as any associated symptoms. With additional questions, the app comes up with a differential diagnosis, and asks the patient to use the attachments: To See (camera), To Hear (electronic stethoscope), Pee (urine analysis), Blood (blood analysis), and Shield (vitals and ECG for 24 hour Holter monitoring, not shown). From these tests, the probability of a specific diagnosis is increased. There is also a wristband, which is meant to be with the patient every hour of every day to measure parameters like heart rate and sleep quality. While it records very basic parameters, it’s something to always be with the patient and help discover diseases early. All of this data is sent to the GP, who can then refer immediately to a specialist, prescribe medications, or prompt the patient to drop in for a visit.
Medgadget: What is the motivation for the design of your device?
Šušterič: Our vision is to simplify medical diagnostics and expedite primary care. We applied to the XPRIZE competition because we saw that we could really make a difference in home diagnostics. We believe healthcare should be more personalized and assessed more by patients, who can make preliminary measurements of vitals and make some diagnoses themselves. This is beneficial as the patient is in a more natural setting at home, and not under stress at the doctor’s office. Then, we want to connect the patient’s data with their doctor who can check it and if necessary, recommend a visit, make a referral to a specialist, or prescribe medications.
Medgadget: What advantages does your team have over the other XPRIZE finalists?
Šušterič: We believe that our device is better than the other competitors because our device will be connected to the doctors. It will send them notifications every time something is wrong, and allows them to prescribe drugs or send to secondary care rapidly. Right now, we have sales reps for our ABPI device across Europe on the field every day and we focus our design based on the feedback they get on how GPs are helping patients. Also, we are very focused in the user experience. Patients are already familiar with the medical diagnostic procedure at the GP’s office. So we designed to emulate that – the app first asks focused history questions, then measures vitals, then measures urine and blood, exactly like how a doctor would, but allows the patient to be in a more relaxed setting at home. Our efforts were recognized, as the XPRIZE judges commended us on our user experience. Furthermore, we are an established manufacturer of professional medical devices, and our technologies and algorithms are well developed. Thus, our device for home use will be very accurate and very sensitive.
Medgadget: How will you deal with the regulatory boards for your device?
Šušterič: We have backgrounds with medical device companies in covering the CE Mark regulations. Now, working at MESI Medical, we have the experience to quickly prove the safety and efficacy of our products. Actually, we were the youngest startup in the region to receive ISO 9001 and 13485 certificates, and developing/obtaining CE Mark certification (IIa) only took us 1.5 years for our first product. So we’re familiar with tests for Europe, and are currently applying to the FDA with our ABPI MD device to understand that process.
Medgadget: Tell us about start-ups and the BME industry in Slovenia.
Šušterič: The Slovenian startup ecosystem is really good right now. There are lots of initiatives to explore foreign markets like USA or other parts of Europe. We’ve had lots of successful startups like ADORA (http://adora-med.com), Mediately (http://www.mediately.eu), Kinestica (http://www.kinestica.com), and Fotona (http://www.fotona.com). We are the most successful country on Kickstarter, by number of projects per citizen!
Medgadget: Do you have any advice you could give to other startup entrepreneurs?
Šušterič: Many startups are finding different excuses, and they blame the government, ecosystem, etc. for the problems they have. I agree nothing is perfect, but I know that entrepreneurs are those that can find their way even when these problems exist. Entrepreneurs, you have to be persistent, and with a real and very good focus, you can achieve your goals!
Medgadget: Anything else you’d like to add?
Šušterič: We’d like to thank our partners – we could not have gotten here without them! Gigodesign (User Experience Design), D·Labs (Mobile Application and Web Based API development), Institute “Jožef Stefan” (Artificial Intelligence), Faculty of Electrical Engineering (Algorithm Development by Laboratory for digital signal, image and video processing and Laboratory of Metrology and Quality) and Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ljubljana (Medical Knowledge).