First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Yossi Pollak: My family and I are doing well. Times are definitely tough, but we are continuing to stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 developments and adhering to social distancing guidelines to keep ourselves and others healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Sight Diagnostics.
Yossi Pollak: Before founding Sight, I was a Project Leader at Mobileye, a recognized leader in autonomous vehicle technology that was acquired by Intel in the largest M&A deal in Israel’s history. During my time there, I learned a lot about machine vision technology, which I have since applied to my company, Sight. Instead of using machine vision to recognize pedestrians, crosswalks, and traffic signals, I theorized we could use it to recognize biomarkers in the blood.
I came up with the idea for Sight during my time at INSEAD Business School in France, where I won the INSEAD Business Venture Competition for a business proposal. This proposal grew into what is now Sight Diagnostics.
How does Sight Diagnostics innovate?
Yossi Pollak: Sight has developed a disruptive new blood testing method by combining high powered microscopes and artificial intelligence. This system leverages advanced algorithms to count and analyze blood samples for biomarkers, a process that was previously done by lab technicians. Having first applied this technology to Malaria detection, where we delivered more than a million tests in 20+ countries, we have spent the last 5 years commercializing this process for Complete Blood Count (CBC), the most commonly ordered test in the world. Since then, we have released Sight OLO, a compact analyzer for CBC that only requires two drops of blood and has received FDA 510(k) clearance in the US and CE Mark in the EU.
I have been lucky enough to recruit some of the top minds in Israel to help me in this journey who are leaders in the field of technology, chemistry, biomedical engineering, artificial intelligence, and other key areas. We have an incredibly collaborative work style, which has allowed us to innovate in AI-driven healthcare extremely quickly.
We have also scaled our R&D efforts across our Tel Aviv, London, and New York offices. We recently raised $71 million in Series D funding, which we are using to advance our technology and explore new applications of our AI.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Yossi Pollak: The pandemic has presented unique challenges, which we are well-equipped to solve.
When the lockdowns began in Israel, we were recognized as an essential business and were allowed to continue operating in a limited manner. We then sent home many of our AI and engineering teams who could safely work from home. After that, we spread out our manufacturing operation into these now unused spaces and created shifts to limit our employees’ close interaction as much as possible.
We’ve also had to modify our delivery and installation process, which had previously required a Sight employee to physically deliver and train customers on using the device. We have since created a completely virtual process to ensure our employees’ and customers’ safety. Because our technology is so easy to use, we’ve seen great success with this new process.
At the onset of the outbreak, we deployed our analyzers in a quarantine lab at Sheba Medical Center, a top 10 global hospital based in Israel. This deployment allowed for the CBC testing of COVID-19 patients without the need to transfer the samples to a centralized lab – decreasing the possibility of spreading the virus to healthcare workers and other patients.
Sight recognizes the challenges of COVID-19 in the healthcare industry, and we are working relentlessly to provide solutions to solve these challenges. For example, we developed OLOMobile, a completely portable system that provides lab-grade blood tests in minutes for cancer patients at home. Now, high-risk patients can avoid coming into contact with the virus at hospitals or medical centers and still get the medical attention they need.
Although Sight OLO does not test for COVID-19, it does provide quick results on CBC, the most common blood test ordered in the world, and a key indicator of overall health. Once a patient tests positive for COVID-19, Sight OLO can help determine triage and care decisions.
Lastly, we have partnered with leading hospitals in Israel for a COVID-19 research program, which uses our AI and machine learning algorithms to scour the blood of infected patients to identify any analogies that may be present in the blood of COVID-positive patients.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Yossi Pollak: Despite the challenges brought by COVID, such as the inability to conduct sales meetings in hospitals, keeping all of Sight’s staff was an easy decision. However, in order to do this, we had to move people around departments, reorganize the company’s delivery functions and rearrange parts of our manufacturing premises to reduce the risk of contamination and implement social distancing. Throughout the pandemic, our overarching strategy has been to create a safe environment for our employees while being laser-focused on the critical tasks that enable business growth.
Throughout these times, I have realized the execution of initiatives is just as important, if not more important, than the strategy itself. Additionally, I have learned that it’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen next, so a startup must be extremely dynamic and allow itself to make decisions quickly and implement them efficiently.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Sight Diagnostics in the future?
Yossi Pollak: I deal with stress and anxiety by completing physical activities such as running and cycling. Throughout the pandemic, this allowed me to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.
A stressful moment for myself and the company was raising money during the peak of the pandemic. It was difficult, but staying positive and optimistic is critical because those are the messages you must communicate both internally and to potential investors.
At Sight, we all have a passion for our technology and our role in transforming the patient care model. Moving forward, I believe the pandemic will accelerate the trend of decentralizing diagnostics, which is something Sight is excited to be at the forefront of in the healthcare industry.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Yossi Pollak: Several other companies make CBC diagnostic equipment, but none use the same innovative method that we do. While legacy CBC technology uses complicated machines that require blood to run through various tubes and measuring devices that require expensive reagents, Sight OLO is completely “dry,” meaning patients’ blood never touches the inside of the analyzer. OLO is also much less labor-intensive and requires no lab technician time to analyze the results, as many of our competitors do.
Sight will continue to be a leader in the healthcare industry by leveraging AI to complete rapid, accurate blood diagnostics. Recently, we raised funding to accelerate commercialization and have already signed contracts with leading health institutions to deploy 1000+ units in the coming months and years. Ultimately, we believe machine vision is a superior technology for CBC testing and, hopefully, other kinds of diagnostics tests in the future.
Your final thoughts?
Yossi Pollak: On a macro level, we’re at a critical moment in healthcare. This is the first pandemic in our lifetime, and decentralizing healthcare has never been more important. We’re very excited to have secured $71 million in new funding to expand our US and global footprint and continue to deliver on our mission to bring decentralized blood testing to key markets across the world.
I’m a bit tired on a micro level because my baby doesn’t sleep much these days.
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