aktiia, a Swiss company that promises to deliver an optical blood pressure monitoring device, just raised $4 million USD in seed funding. We spoke with aktiia’s Tobias Pforr, head of business development and marketing, and Josep Sola, CTO, to learn more.
Ben Ouyang, Medgadget: Tell me about aktiia.
Tobias Pforr, aktiia: aktiia was founded in May 2018, but the idea was born way earlier. The two founders have put in the last 13-15 years of research to find ways to measure blood pressures without a cuff. Once they saw optical recognition of heart rate, they saw they could develop precise, medically accurate values of blood pressure and said “hey we need to bring this to the rest of the world.”
The two founders with an extended founding team in total of 4 people. We started fundraising in March and got 3 VCs, including one from the US and one from Switzerland, and one angel investor.
Now we’re ramping up development for the algorithm and third party devices, as well as a device for our own wearable.
Medgadget: How does the aktiia algorithm work?
Pforr: Basically, you have the heart valve which opens and closes. Once it shuts, you have the same effect as a water handler/pipe. It’s like when you have a water hose with a valve that you abruptly shut off, there’s a wave that goes backwards. You similarly have a wave that comes out of the arterial system. The heart propels fluid, then the valve shuts, and the “water hammer” goes backwards and the wave propagates on the walls of the artery. Because the vessels branch at certain areas, the wave goes backwards.
We use a standard optical sensor for HR monitoring and we look at what the waves do. Using pulse wave analysis, we can identify fingerprints of the blood pressure, then modulate the signal in a way that we can derive exact blood pressure signals. Depending on the blood pressure, these waves change. So do the times of the waves.
We’re targeting to be a medically-cleared device in the EU and FDA to become a diagnostic device. We’re not aiming to be a lifestyle device – we really want to help people in the ambulatory and preventative areas. We’re trying to have these by the end of next year (2019/2020).
Medgadget: How does the aktiia device work?
Josep Sola, CTO of aktiia: The aktiia bracelet is at its first use uncalibrated: this means that the user/patient can already use it, but the device will only provide information on blood pressure trends during the days/weeks/months. In this way, the user/patient (or the one analysing the data) can already get hints on the day-to-night and day-to-day variability of blood pressure. However, the absolute values of blood pressure (in mmHg) won’t be displayed yet. After an initial calibration (one single accurate measurement by a GP, nurse, or an automated oscillometer) the aktiia device becomes calibrated, and starts providing readings of blood pressure. This will be already accurate, and displayed in mmHg. From that moment, every time that the user introduces a new calibration value (in the following days, weeks or months) the knowledge of the OBPM algorithm on the user will improve, and the accuracy too: the more data points are available to the OBPM algorithm, the better the performances will be. Do not forget that the aktiia device is not intended to be used in acute settings, where immediate very accurate blood pressure readings are needed in order to take therapeutic decisions. The aktiia device is intended to be used for long-term monitoring of patients, in particular to assess global trends on the improvement/deterioration of hypertension. Nevertheless, the device after one calibration will be tested following industry standards such as the ISO81060-2 (and/or ISO81060-3 when available).
Medgadget: Has this been tested in the clinic?
Pforr: We’ve run clinical trials with an invasive artery line that uses a catheter with a pressure sensor to look at values from there and reference it against our optical measurements and see what the offset is. The accuracy that we’ve gotten is in the level of the public standard. So far, 150 people have been tested, and counting. We’re setting up several other trials in acute and ambulatory settings.
Medgadget: Why is optical blood pressure monitoring better than current cuff measurements?
Pforr: Basically a lot of studies found that the current way of measuring blood pressure influences blood pressure. When I was 27 a couple of years ago, I went to an eye doctor. They saw that my blood pressure might be high so they sent me for a measurement with an ambulatory cuff. Every 20 minutes at work, the cuff was inflated and created noise. That was uncomfortable for me because I didn’t want my colleagues knowing what was going on. I would always go to the staircase when this happened, not knowing that getting up and walking somewhere raises my blood pressure, so my readings were artificially high. We also look at blood pressure at each pulse. We call it beat-to-beat blood pressure measurement.
Medgadget: What sets you apart from other optical blood pressure measurement companies?
Pforr: The approach that we’re taking. There are different ways of looking at it. Pulse wave velocity can be tried to make measurements. We’re looking at all the waves that are ongoing: primary waves, reflected, summation waves. We look at the whole picture and combine it with the amount of our research. We’ve put in 13-15 years in already and counting.
Medgadget: Would people of different body types have different readings?
Pforr: We’re learning with the growing datasets over how blood pressure varies between different people. We can put in various parameters to fine-tune the algorithm depending on the setting.
Medgadget: How do you envision this device being used?
Pforr: There are a couple of fields we’re targeting. The cooler of our application is the algorithm. We can take signals from virtually any optical sensor and we pull out the blood pressure values. For the preventative purpose to make people aware of blood pressure and also alert people if there’s dramatic changes in their blood pressure. So we want to plug our algorithm into existing wearables. We want to raise user awareness by telling them the trends of change of their blood pressures. But because these current wearables aren’t classified as medical devices, we’re producing a medical device that can give precise blood pressure values. Those values can be used with diagnostics to provide the patient with their blood pressures through the user interface. Then we want to give a way more detailed data to the doctor who can develop different treatment plans to see how different behaviours of the patient correlates with blood pressure.
Medgadget: Why did you choose to work with aktiia?
Pforr: I’ve worked at the intersection of business and technology. Last year, I opened my own consulting company to help companies create spinoffs. I’ve been coaching a bunch of different teams. The scientist behind aktiia – we got to know each other through a mutual project – said “hey we’re starting something – do you want to be part of it?” And so I knew what I was getting myself into. With my personal history with blood pressure… I went to the doctor’s, and based on one reading, the doctor prescribed me with a beta-blocker. I had pretty bad side effects – I had no drive and completely demotivated at work and didn’t see the effect of what I was doing. Later it turned out after I did another measurement that my blood pressure was actually fine. There is my interest in knowing blood pressure and how it actually changes throughout the day. So for me, this is an exciting topic, where now you can really help a ton of people to make their life better.
Latest announcement: aktiia Closes $4M Seed Round to Reinvent Blood Pressure Monitoring…
Link: aktiia homepage…