Three of the four founders of Israeli startup EarlySense have children who suffer from asthma. And their initial goal in setting up the company was to find a smart contact-free respiratory monitoring system that could help parents and doctors identify deterioration in their children’s condition and prevent or minimize an attack before it happens.
It’s with good justification. Every year in the US about 5,000 children die of asthma and Avner Halperin, the co-founder and CEO of Ramat Gan-based EarlySense, asserts that these deaths could have been avoided with early treatment, as could 80 percent of hospitalizations.
Along the way, however, Halperin and his co-founders discovered that their device, which goes on sale in the US in 2008, not only had applications for asthmatics, but also for people suffering from other respiratory and heart problems such as congestive heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). They realized too that the device was suitable not only for home use, but also in clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals.
“There’s a lot of value in identifying the deterioration of a patient’s respiratory and heart condition early on when giving medication can be much more effective,” Halperin told ISRAEL21c. “It can not only prevent readmittance to hospital, but also prevent the death of patients. When we started work this was considered a new idea, now it’s completely accepted.”
So much so, in fact, that the Joint Commission, the primary accreditation agency in the US, requires that from next year on, all hospitals will need to establish systems and procedures to recognize and respond to changes in a patient’s condition. The committee stated in their recommendations that the warning signs for many medical emergencies can be identified between six to eight hours before the event happens.
The EarlySense ES-16 system is the first device on the market that allows nurses and caring staff to monitor a patient’s heart and respiratory condition without hooking them up physically to a machine. The monitor can be slipped under the mattress and automatically begins measuring breathing and heart rate, two of the most important vital signs in a patient, the moment they get into bed.
“Research shows that the largest risk for patients in hospitals was from events while they are in bed. Even if they are out of bed, you see the early warning signs many hours in advance of the event,” says Halperin. “The same is true at home. You may only be monitoring at night, but in most cases the data provided gives you an indication that something is going to go wrong the following day.”
The system, which has been evaluated at several clinical settings on patients suffering chronic diseases, at acute care facilities, and in general care wards, can be used for adults and children over the age of two. There is no need for patient activation or involvement.
“It was important to develop a contact-free solution because you have to monitor patients in a way that does not affect their mobility,” says Halperin. “There’s a strong push to make patients as mobile as possible. It’s a very high issue on a hospital’s priority list, especially when you are talking about children.”
The device is also designed to eliminate the false readings and false alarms that plague most monitoring systems.
The technology has already undergone successful clinical trials and the current version, ES-16, was cleared for use by the FDA this month. The company is now seeking FDA clearance for its upgraded version, EverOn, which will go on sale in the US in the summer.
Though developed initially with the home market in mind, the company has identified its first target markets as ICU’s, general care medical and surgical wards in hospitals. “Today there are one million hospital beds in the US with no monitoring. With the increased emphasis on patient safety and preventative care, there is a clear need for a device that will help nurses and physicians identify a patient whose heart rate and breathing is beginning to deteriorate,” explains Halperin.
The move into homes will begin in 2009.
EarlySense, which today employs 25, was founded in 2004. Aside from Halperin, the co-founders are Dr. Yossi Gross (who founded BioControl, Brainsgate and Visioncare), Guy Shinar (former CEO of X-Technologies), Dr. Danny Lange (founder of IDesia and Algodyne).
Over the years the company has received funding of $5 million from The Etgar Challenge Fund, Proseed Venture Capital Fund, the Docor Fund – from the Van Leer Group, US venture capital company, the Bridge Fund, and private investors. “We have European, Israeli and American representation on our investment team,” says Halperin. The company now plans an additional round of fund-raising sometime over the next year.
In the years ahead, EarlySense has plans to expand the use of its device to various other medical conditions. “It’s a generic platform and we believe there will be a large range of products for various medical settings,” says Halperin.
And of course the founders have installed it in their children’s beds.