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Alan’s meteoric rise in the French tech ecosystem has been both figurative and literal. A few years ago, the startup’s office was limited to one floor in a nondescriptive office building near the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris. Over time, the company added another floor, then another floor… Now, the company of 550 employees also occupies […]

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How Reed Jobs’ venture firm tackles cancer

Reed Jobs’ new venture firm can change the lives of the estimated 18.1 million diagnosed cancer patients worldwide. Yosemite, Jobs’ fund for cancer-fighting biotech, launched in August with $200 million in funding from investors like MIT, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and John Doerr. Jobs first became interested in oncology as a teen after his […]

Microsoft open sources EvoDiff, a novel protein-generating AI

Proteins, the natural molecules that carry out key cellular functions within the body, are the building blocks of all diseases. Characterizing proteins can reveal the mechanisms of a disease, including ways to slow it or potentially reverse it, while creating proteins can lead to entirely new classes of drugs and therapeutics. But the current process […]

Backed by Peak XV and Jungle, Neurowyzr puts the focus on brain health

The rate of dementia is expected to double every 20 years, but many tools for early detection, like MRI scans, are difficult for patients to access. Neurowyzr wants to help more people get brain healthcare through tools like its online Digital Brain Function Screen (DBFS). The startup, which has offices in Singapore and India, announced today it has raised $2.1 million in seed funding. The oversubscribed round was led by Jungle Ventures and Peak XV’s (formerly Sequoia India and Southeast Asia) Surge program, with participation from angel investors.

Neurowyzr has now raised $3.3 million since it was founded in 2019 by Nav Vij and Pang Sze Yunn. It will participate in 2023 Medtech Innovator Asia Pacific, the world’s largest medtech accelerator program.

Vij, Neurowyzr’s chief digital neuroscientist, became interested in early brain decline and related therapies while studying for his neuroscience degree at the University of Melbourne. One of his family members was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease at a young age, which motivated Vij to remove obstacles to brain healthcare. Pang, who has worked on pioneering health initiatives including Asia’s first heart failure monitoring project, got interested in brain healthcare because she saw the impact brain conditions can have on family members, especially women caregivers.

Pang told TechCrunch that a lot of work in neurology currently focuses on treatment for serious brain conditions. But brain decline can start 20 to 40 years before a condition like dementia, mental illness or stroke emerges. As a result, early detection is crucial.

Neurowyzr co-founders Pang Sze Yunn (CEO) and Nav Vij (chief digital neuroscientist)

Neurowyzr co-founders Pang Sze Yunn (CEO) and Nav Vij (chief digital neuroscientist)

Traditional brain tests like pen-and-paper tests can be affected by tester bias, while MRI and CT scans are expensive and inaccessible to many patients. Neurowyzr wants to address the gap with its digital neuroscience assessment tool, the Digital Brain Function Screen (DBFS). Meant to be faster and less costly than traditional cognitive testing. DBFS is currently used by healthcare organizations like Parkway Shenton, SATA Commhealth, Farrer Park Hospital, MHC Medical Centre (Amara) and O’Joy in Singapore. It has also completed a pilot with a large private hospital chain in India and is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Singapore Health Sciences Authority and Australia Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Pang said the DBFS can be completed in 15 to 20 minutes. It assesses a patient’s immediate memory, working memory, attention and executive brain function through a series of gamified neuroscience puzzles. For example, one puzzle has dots with a number on each scattered across the screen, and asks the users to connect them in order. Another shows a series of numbers that users need to memorize and then write in order. DBFS is hosted online, so patients can access it through a web browser link at home, though it was designed for primary care settings.

Neurowyzr’s new funding will be used on product development and regional expansion in Southeast Asia and India. The startup is currently working with academic organizations like the NTU Lee Kong Chian School Medicine’s Dementia Research Centre to develop more digital brain health solutions, with the goal of decreasing undetected cases of early brain decline.

In a statement, Jungle Ventures healthcare partner Seemant Jauhari said, “Projected numbers tell a stark story for Asia: over the next two decades, more than 66 million individuals could face dementia, while mild cognitive impairment could affect over 400 million. Neurowyzr is a direct response to this challenge. By assessing brain and mental health promptly, we’re building a proactive defense against potential epidemic.”

Fitbit is revamping its app with a three-tab layout

Google-owned Fitbit announced today that the company will introduce a new app with a refreshed design over the next few months. Fitbit said that it will start testing the new app in beta starting today with a select set of people.

The company noted that the new app will have a three-tab structure. A “Today” tab for a summary of a user’s activity, a “Coach” tab for health and fitness content, and a “You” tab to give users access to adjust their goals and track their progress.

The current version of the Fitbit app already has a “Today” tab. But the new app brings a refreshed design with easily glanceable stats like today’s steps, stress management, sleep score, zone minutes, and activity. Fitbit Premium users can see stats like readiness scores.

Fitbit's redesign Today tab that gives fitness summary

Image Credits: Fitbit

Fitbit is introducing a fitness, nutritional, and mindfulness content hub with the new “Coach” tab by showing curated content. Users will be able to filter workouts by equipment type. Premium users will be able to access workouts by type such as dance cardio and HIIT. In the current version of the Fitbit app, some of this content is hosted under the “Discover” tab.

Fitbit's Coach tab will show you content related to fitness, mindfulness, and nutrition

Image Credits: Fitbit

Finally, the “You” tab lets users adjust their goals for measures like steps, activity, and sleep. The “You” tab also folds in features like achievements and community.

The new Fitbit app's You tab, which allows users to change their goals and track their achievements

Image Credits: Fitbit

The company is also introducing an easy way to track your health without owning a Fitbit device. Users can measure their activities like a walk, a run, or a hike with a more precise step count and live view of the route on the map using their phones.

Fitbit said the app incorporates Google Material Design standards — an indication that users might see more of Google in the service. In April, Fitbit said that it will start prompting users to migrate to Google accounts. Google said that despite this migration, it won’t use Fitbit data for Google ads at the moment.

Kenya’s MyDawa aims to be an all-in-one health platform backed by $20 million funding

Kenyan e-health startup MyDawa has raised $20 million funding from private equity investor Alta Semper Capital, to expand its regional reach and product offerings with the aim of becoming an all-in-one health platform for users.

MyDawa, which launched in 2016, has diversified from an e-pharmacy to include online and in-person consultations, and laboratory services at its expanding network of walk-in pharmacies and health centres.

It has also launched its own branded products, and plans to open up its technology infrastructure from telehealth to fulfillment, helping other businesses in the health sector to scale. It claims to have already inked deals with some of Kenya’s biggest clinic chains, which are looking to expand their reach.

Additionally, MyDawa has also acquired Uganda’s Guardian Health, one of the many acquisitions and collaborations it aims to make as it expands beyond Kenya. The growth plans will be steered by new CEO Priscilla Muhiu, formerly of Glovo Kenya.

Commenting on the funding and newest acquisition, MyDawa co-founder Neil O’Leary said: “Alta Semper’s ambition exactly matches that of MyDawa, and it brings the drive, connections and clout to succeed. Three years ago, AAIC, a Japanese backed African healthcare fund joined as our first external investor and now the team has been augmented in the strongest manner possible.”

“MyDawa now has both a solid secure base and a great expansion opportunity based on a great offering which improves health outcomes. Guardian is a great first step on fulfilling our ambition,” said O’Leary.

MyDawa raised $3 million from AAIC’s Africa Healthcare Fund in 2019, and has also received $1.2 million grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS by increasing access to PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) medication.

Alta Semper CEO, Afsane Jetha, said the investment marked the PE firm’s first entry into digital healthcare in Africa, regarded as one of the sectors with the potential for great growth in the coming years.

“MyDawa was the logical choice for us as their groundbreaking technology, underpinning a scalable business model, along with regulatory knowhow and market entry experience, mapped so well to our own strategy. The drive to increase the access to good advice and safe and affordable medication is core to our overall mission of democratizing access to health and wellbeing across the African continent,” said Jetha.

“With consumer spending in Africa projected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, this represents one of the continent’s largest business opportunities. Therefore, the investment into MyDawa is part of our strategic aim at meeting this growing demand by investing in locally produced and value-priced consumer goods and services.”

Kenya’s MyDawa aims to be an all-in-one health platform backed by $20 million funding by Annie Njanja originally published on TechCrunch

SnapCalorie taps AI to estimate the caloric content of food from photos

While working at Google, Wade Norris wanted to create a project that could positively impact people’s lives. He co-founded Google Lens, Google’s computer vision-powered app that brings up information related to the objects it identifies. But it didn’t quite scratch the itch.

So several years ago, Norris teamed up with Scott Baron, a systems engineer in the aerospace industry, to launch a health-focused startup called SnapCalorie. SnapCalorie, powered by AI, attempts to get an accurate calorie count and macronutrient breakdown of a meal from a single photo taken with a smartphone.

This month, SnapCalorie raised $2 million in funding from investors including Accel, Index Ventures, former CrossFit CEO Eric Roza and Y Combinator. The company previously raised $125,000 from unidentified investors in a pre-seed round.

“Human beings are terrible at visually estimating the portion size of a plate of food,” Norris said. “SnapCalorie improves on the status quo by combining a variety of new technologies and algorithms.”

To be clear, SnapCalorie isn’t the first computer vision-based app for calorie counting. Apps such as Calorie Mama, Lose It, Foodadviser and Bite.AI have all attempted the feat — to varying degrees of success. But what makes SnapCalorie different, Norris claims, is its use of depth sensors on supported devices for measuring portion size and team of human reviewers for “an added layer of quality.”

“On average, the team is able to reduce the caloric error to under 20%,” Norris says. “There are other apps capable of using AI to do photo-based meal tracking, but none of them help with portion size estimation — the most important part to reduce error.”

SnapCalorie

Image Credits: SnapCalorie

There’s a lot of skepticism in the health industry around photo-driven calorie estimating tools — and for good reason. One 2020 study comparing some of the more popular AI-based calorie counters found that the most accurate — Calorie Mama — was only right about 63% of the time.

So how’s SnapCalorie improved? Beyond the use of depth sensors and reviewers, Norris points to an algorithm that the company developed that can ostensibly outperform a person at estimating a food’s calories. Using the algorithm, SnapCalorie both identifies the types of food in a photo and measures the portion size of each to estimate the caloric content.

The results can be logged in SnapCalorie’s food journal or exported to fitness-tracking platforms like Apple Health .

The algorithm’s reported strong performance comes from its unique training data set of 5,000 meals, Norris says, which SnapCalorie created by taking thousands of photos of each meal — e.g. soups, burritos, oils, “mystery sauces” and more — using a robotic rig.

“We made sure these had all of the diverse and challenging conditions you’d see in the real world and we weighed out every single ingredient on a scale,” Norris said. “The traditional pipeline for training an AI model is to download public web images, have people label the images and then train the model to predict those labels. This isn’t possible for food, because people are very inaccurate at visually estimating portion size, so you can’t have people label the images after the fact.”

Norris admits that SnapCalorie’s algorithm may be biased toward American food, since the team collected most of the initial training data in the U.S. But the company in the process of expanding the training data — drawing both on photos from SnapCalorie’s users and internal data — to include other cultural cuisines, he says.

One might argue that, no matter how accurate the algorithm, no app can give a truly accurate account of how many calories you ate in a meal. There’s a range of variables apps don’t consider, after all, like different cooking methods and the amount of time it takes to break down individual foods.

Norris doesn’t make the claim that SnapCalorie is 100% accurate, suggesting that that app’s calorie estimating tools should be considered simply a piece of the larger nutrition puzzle. He spotlighted SnapCalorie’s other major feature, a ChatGPT-powered chatbot, which gives meal suggestions informed by a user’s coals and past preferences as well as SnapCalorie’s database of nutritional values.

SnapCalorie

Image Credits: SnapCalorie

“We’ve found that people’s interest in understanding what they’re putting in their bodies is on the rise. The negative health impacts of things like processed foods are becoming more and more clear every day,” Norris said. “We’ve heard that our users really like SnapCalorie especially when eating out, as many restaurants don’t post nutrition values, and they would otherwise have no way of logging the meal.”

To his point about popularity, SnapCalorie appears to be growing at a healthy clip — it’s on track to break 1,000 new users this month. The company’s focused on expansion at the moment as opposed to monetization, but Norris described the burn rate as “very conservative.”

“Our incredible organic growth rate seems to be indicative of our value proposition resonating well with consumers — people try it, love it, and recommend it to their friends and family,” he said.

SnapCalorie taps AI to estimate the caloric content of food from photos by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

This little wearable is designed to detect blood flow to the brain

STAT Health calls the human ear a “biometric gold mine.” The startup, which emerged out of stealth this morning, is talking specifically about cerebral blood flow (CBF). That’s pretty much what it sounds like: the blood supply to the brain measured over a specific length of time. A lack of blood flow to the brain creates all sorts of unpleasantness, like dizziness, fainting, headaches and “brain fog.”

If that last one in particular rings any bells, it’s likely due to ongoing conversations around the cause and symptoms of long Covid. It’s not a medical condition, but it pops up when discussing a variety of impairments. For some time, medical officials have believed that CBF can prove an important biomarker for understanding a variety of conditions.

Image Credits: STAT

That notion is foundational to STAT Health. The startup was founded in 2020 by Daniel Lee and Paul Jin, of Bose’s Health Product Innovation Group. Lee joined the headphone giant in 2016 after it acquired his smart earplug firm Hush, whose technology would form the foundation for Sleepbuds.

Backed by $5.1 million in seed funding from J2 Ventures and BonAngels Venture Partners (along with a U.S. Air Force grant), the new company has produced the STAT earpiece, a small wearable designed to monitor CBF in order to better understand how the measurement is related to conditions like long Covid, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) – often considered “invisible illnesses.”

“It’s well understood that the ear is a biometric gold mine because of its close proximity to the brain and major arteries,” Lee says in a release. “In addition, the ear is largely isolated from data corruption caused by arm motion – a problem that plagues current wearables and prevents them from monitoring heart metrics during many daily tasks. The ear is really the ideal window into the brain and heart.”

Image Credits: STAT

It occupies an interesting area, given that it’s neither a mainstream wearable like the Sleepbuds (or, for that matter, an number of VO2 max measuring watches/bands) nor a medical device. It’s also designed to offer insight into what is a relatively emerging segment of biometric measurements.

STAT is designed to be worn all day and night and is small enough to work with various earbuds. It also features solar charge, which can hypothetically mean you won’t have to take it out. The device opens for pre-orders today.

This little wearable is designed to detect blood flow to the brain by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Generation Prime launches to make fertility services more accessible in Asia

Generation Prime, a startup that wants to make IVF and other fertility services more accessible to patients in Asia, is launching its first two clinics in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The company also announced seed funding led by Recharge Capital, which incubated it, with participation from Thiel Capital, Shamrock Holdings, the Disney family’s investment vehicle and Blue Lion Global.

Generation Prime describes itself as the first “full-stack, closed-loop IVF health services clinic” in Southeast Asia, which means that IVF services will be provided through digital and physical channels, starting with initial consultations and including egg and sperm freezing, diagnosis, testing, IVF and surrogacy. The clinics expect to serve both patients who live locally, as well as those traveling from other countries, like China, for fertility services.

Over the next three years, Generation Prime plans to open a total of 15 clinics in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Lorin Gu, a founding partner at Recharge Capital, said the firm incubated Generation Prime because people in Asia want options and flexibility for family planning, but often do not have access to fertility services in the countries where they live.

Recharge Capital founding partner Lorin Gu

Recharge Capital founding partner Lorin Gu

“Across Asia and Southeast Asia, the different legal structures have created a highly fragmented industry,” he said. He added that studies show by 2045, close to half of couples are expected to use IVF to start their families. “Despite these markers, female health conditions totaled just 1% of pharmaceutical research funding in 2020.”

Generation Prime expects about 70% of its clients to be medical tourists from China, and 30% to be local patients. “This is not because local patients are not actively using IVF services, but mainly because of the sheer population of China and the unmet demands that exists in the country,” said Gu. “In addition, China does not allow many of the IVF procedures that are currently desired by patients seeking more robust family planning services, and as a result, a large number of patients have been pushed into the Southeast Asian market.”

Generation Prime launches to make fertility services more accessible in Asia by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Singapore’s Ora takes a vertically-integrated approach to telehealth

According to the founder of Singapore-based telehealth platform Ora, 90% of its patients are less than 39 years old and have not been treated for their conditions offline. That puts the onus on Ora to make sure its patients, mostly millennials who live in cities, have a good experience. Ora wants to perform with verticals focused on specific health issues, like women’s and men’s health and skincare. They also run an end-to-end platform that handles everything from consultations to prescription delivery and post-care.

Today, Ora announced it has raised $10 million in Series A funding, which it says is the biggest telehealth Series A round in Southeast Asia. The investment was co-led by TNB Aura and Antler, with participation from Gobi Partners, Kairous Capital and GMA Ventures.

This brings Ora’s total raised since its inception in 2020 to $17 million. Ora was founded by Elias Pour, the former CMO of Zalora, and says it has had uninterrupted >20% month-over-month growth since it launched last year.

Pour told TechCrunch that while working at Zalora, he “saw a very clear trend from customers investing in looking good, driven by fashion buys that allowed them to express themselves, to feeling good, which is connected to physical appearance such as skin, hair, weight and overall well-being.” He started looking for segments that were underserved and found a major opportunity in healthcare.

Ora founder and CEO Elias Pour

Ora founder and CEO Elias Pour

Pour added that Southeast Asia has one of the highest out-of-pocket health expenditures globally, so there didn’t need to be a behavioral change in order to convince people to move to direct payments. “People are already used to paying out of pocket for their healthcare costs, suiting this category well for DTC.”

Ora says it has delivered over 250,000 doctor consultations since its launch in 2021. It has an end-to-end model, meaning it covers consultations, pharmacy, medication delivery and post-purchase care. Ora monetizes with subscriptions, with subscriptions accounting for more than 70% of its revenue.

Ora is vertically-integrated, and currently operates three brands. The first, called Modules, is focused on online dermatology consultations and prescription skincare. The second, andSons, offers male health care, and the third, OVA, treats female reproductive healthcare.

The platform primarily treats a young clientele. The company says that 90% of its patients are first to condition, under 38 years old and have never been treated before online. Younger patients demand flexibility and speed, which is why Ora’s telemedicine model is attractive to them.

Pour said that one of the challenges healthcare providers face in Southeast Asia is the “large disconnect between the patient population,” which skews young, and the legacy experience of healthcare. He believes that over the next decade, about 80% of healthcare services will be brought online.

“Today, men and women in their 20s and 30s living in capital cities represent 36% of the total population. It’s the fastest growing segment, forecasted to represent half of the population in most markets by 2030,” he said. Pour added that Ora is “establishing a strong relationship with them at this early stage, to earn their trust, remaining relevant to address the healthcare needs they will have as they age.”

Pour said Ora differentiates from other telehealth players like Doctor Anywhere, Speedoc and Alodokter because it focuses on specific health issues. Ora is also combining prescription, OTC and strong consumer products to provide post-treatment service and clinical continuity.

Ora’s new funding will be used to expand into new markets and brings its brands to more than 1,300 retail stores.

In a statement, TNB Aura founding partner Charles Wong said, “[Ora’s] combined focus on specialized, and often taboo, healthcare verticals as well as a direct-to-patient approach has led the team to clearly differentiate itself while delivering market-leading unit economics that meet the tailored needs of patients across the full value chain.”

Singapore’s Ora takes a vertically-integrated approach to telehealth by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch