We talked to Dr. Doron Adler of Sanolla about revolutionizing the primary care diagnosis during the pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dr. Doron Adler: COVID-19 has introduced a new routine, a new way of thinking, giving a different rhythm to our life. We now need to rethink before we do simple daily rituals: working, shopping, meeting with family and friends has a whole new complexity. Hopefully, the old normal will return, but in the meantime, we are working hard to find ways to help us prepare for a new one.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Sanolla, and how does it innovate?
Dr. Doron Adler: I’ve been in the medical device industry since 1992. I am an electrical engineer with a Ph.D. from the Technion in Israel. I was previously VP R&D for Given Imaging, which pioneered capsule endoscopy technology. Later, I established Cbyond and developed an intravascular imaging catheter, a breakthrough device for performing intravascular procedures, while receiving real-time images from within the vassals. Cbyond was sold to ACMI, which later merged with Gyrus. Gyrus-ACMI was sold in 2008 to Olympus for $2.1B. I continued to serve as CEO for Olympus Israel and in parallel as CTO of Olympus US. In 2016, I decided to move on to another challenge, and together with my partner, Mr. Dudu Linhard, we established Sanolla. We set our mission to revolutionize primary care diagnosis by using the previously inaccessible body infrasound. Infrasound contains significant clinical data that is undetectable to the human ear – until now. Our vision was to develop AI-based product lines for professional medical staff, home users, hospitals, clinics, and POC’s. We saw a real need for early detection of cardiopulmonary conditions by non-invasive diagnosis and monitoring devices that are safe, accurate. That can be easily used everywhere, anytime, by everyone.
We established Sanolla mainly because we wanted to help chronic patients and home users. Apart from blood pressure monitors, most chronic patients and families with young children can’t access advanced heart and lung monitoring from home in order to monitor their own condition. In addition, we decided to take our technology to the highest level for professional use. Now, after 200 years of traditional stethoscope use, our VoqX device can be used by doctors as a ‘one-stop’ complete assessment device, providing them with critical decision support data.
How the coronavirus pandemic changed Sanolla?
Dr. Doron Adler: In 2016, long before the COVID-19 outbreak, and in order to monitor lung and heart symptoms, we decided to focus on bio-feedback, adding sensors such as temperature, oxygen levels, respiratory and heart rate – to help the AI technology to better diagnose the patients. WHO recommendations for COVID-19 detection confirmed the importance of monitoring the same vital signs. It was as if we had “foreseen the future.” Starting in April of this year, we started to collect clinical data of COVID-19 patients with our technology. We found that although COVID-19 patients usually exhibit “silent pneumonia” in the audible range, the lungs are not ‘silent’ at all in the infrasound range. This finding made us shift our R&D effort toward fighting COVID-19.
In June, we established a consortium consisting of six European and Israeli companies. We were granted a total of €5 million funding for the project, under the Horizon 2020 program designed to fight COVID-19 with a focus on PyXy.AI, our AI-based device made for remote and home use – especially helpful in rural areas, nursing homes, and COVID-19 drive through testing centers.
In parallel, together with the Israel Ministry of Health, we’ve initiated a national level clinical trial for COVID-19 detection.
So, COVID-19 has certainly had a significant impact on us. It enabled us to demonstrate our ability to quickly pivot and address the demand for innovative, flexible thinking, as well as stretching our limits. It’s definitely an exciting time to continue our journey to bring our breakthrough technology to market.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Dr. Doron Adler: As a lean startup, the margin for errors is very small. We are always limited by resources and unknowns. On a daily basis, you have to make difficult choices under a great deal of uncertainty. Simply, how to deploy limited resources and how to utilize them.
The most recent and relevant example is the decision we made to shift our R&D effort and join the global effort to fight COVID-19. The early detection of COVID-19 patients, with an immediate result, without the need for trained personnel, nor biological samples, and further expensive and time-consuming tests is a real win. In retrospect, we think that the shift was inevitable, but at the time, it was a difficult risk to take.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Dr. Doron Adler: It is always challenging. Managing a startup is like guiding a roller coaster along a new track, regardless of how many years of experience you have. The experience definitely helps, yet I find it is important to surround myself with the right people I can rely on for good advice.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dr. Doron Adler: The digitalized world and AI-based machines have naturally penetrated into many areas of our lives. Nowadays, you can find several electronic stethoscopes that can be used as a hearing aid and amplify the volume. Some can transfer audio files to smartphones or computers for second opinions and telemedicine. Some smart stethoscopes can use AI for decision support and to lower misdiagnosis. But we are the only company to use infrasound technology, to provide a comprehensive solution for professionals and home users as well and the only device which does not require a smartphone or internet connection nor cloud platform in order to have an answer as to whether or not to seek immediate medical intervention. The implications for rural populations and the elderly are staggering. The accessibility of our product is a differentiator allowing us to help more people easily from anywhere.
Your final thoughts?
Dr. Doron Adler: We, as a startup, are always looking for suitable joint ventures to maximize our potential and deliver our promise on a paradigm-shifting technology that can significantly impact patient quality of life and streamline and support doctor’s decisions.