Quanttus Dives Into Personal Health With $22M From Khosla, Matrix

2/24/14Follow @gthuang

Last summer, we were the first to report on a stealthy MIT startup that’s trying to become a big player in personal health and wellness. Well, that company is now one of the better-funded efforts in this emerging sector.

Quanttus, a 25-person startup based in Cambridge, MA, announced today that it has raised a $19 million Series A round from Khosla Ventures and Matrix Partners. The deal, which closed in December, comes on the heels of a $3 million seed investment from Khosla early last year. Khosla Ventures is also an investor in San Francisco-based wearables company Jawbone and Boston-born mobile health startup Ginger.io.

This is a rare case in which a startup’s financing and investors are more of a news story than what it’s actually doing. Mostly because it’s still too early for the company to say much about the latter—or about where it will play in the competitive market of health tracking and wearables.

Not that I didn’t try to draw that out of Shahid Azim (pictured), the CEO and co-founder of Quanttus. Previously he was the CEO and co-founder of Lantos Technologies, another MIT spinout that makes 3D-imaging equipment to help hearing aids and audio headsets fit better.

In early 2012, Azim says, he was intrigued by Qualcomm’s announcement of its Tricorder XPrize—a competition to design a personal-health device that can scan a patient and diagnose problems, like its “Star Trek” namesake. That was the original inspiration for Quanttus, though the company’s approach has since diverged.

Azim put together a small team of mostly MIT alums (he’s a Sloan School grad), including co-founders David He and Richard Bijjani, to see how far they could get quickly. They built on He’s PhD work at MIT on monitoring cardiovascular disease using wearable sensors. The core technology is about “passive, noninvasive, continuous monitoring,” Azim says. That’s techno-speak for something you can wear comfortably while you work, play, or sleep, and doesn’t require you to do anything special, like draw blood.

After some experiments, Quanttus developed a prototype device worn on the wrist. The hardware uses a variety of sensors—optical, accelerometer, and so forth—to measure vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration.

That’s no easy feat. If it were, doctors would just scan your wrist instead of putting your arm in a blood-pressure cuff and listening to your chest. A big part of Quanttus’s innovation, Azim says, is around its methods for resolving the human body’s vital signals in the presence of noise, including wrist motion when a person walks or moves around.

The other big challenge has to do with processing the data. As Azim puts it, once the hardware isolates the right signals, the company’s software needs to “add context around that” in order to generate “the right insights to induce behavior change.” In doing that, he says, “you have a shot at the Holy Grail of healthcare, which is outcomes.”

That’s pretty abstract, but it sounds like what Quanttus is doing is using machine learning and artificial-intelligence tools to get a fuller picture of a person’s health, once it has a baseline of vital signs. You could imagine, for instance, that the software can account for things like sleep quality, hydration, and exercise, and even pull in environmental factors like location, weather, and air conditions, to try to figure out why a person doesn’t feel good on a given day.

Quanttus hopes eventually to tackle serious health areas like cardiac disease, hypertension, and stress. If successful, the company will “create powerful new tools for consumers and healthcare providers that will change how we understand our health,” says lead investor Vinod Khosla, in a statement.

Azim first met Khosla, the famed VC and founding CEO of Sun Microsystems, at a mobile health conference in December 2012. … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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