Butterfly Network Seeks to Slash Price of 3-D Medical Imaging
Entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg, who led sequencing startups 545 Life Sciences and Ion Torrent before they were acquired, has a new venture that also applies the power of Moore’s Law to medicine.
The Rothberg-founded Butterfly Network on Monday said it has raised $80 million from investors that include several family offices and Stanford University. It’s the one of the first companies to come out of 4Combinator, a Guilford, CT,-based incubator run by Rothberg and his associate Gregg Fergus. Each of the companies received between $5 million and $20 million to start.
The Series C money at Butterfly Network, which has raised $100 million to date, will be used to commercialize what Rothberg described in an interview as a medical device designed to greatly reduce the cost of real-time, three-dimensional imaging and treatment. The company intends to release an imaging product in as soon as 18 months.
It will also seek to develop a version of the device, guided by the imaging component, to conduct non-invasive therapy, such as treating cancer, but that will take more time because of regulatory approvals.
An MRI machine can costs millions of dollars. But Rothberg says Butterfly Network is aiming for a portable device with a proprietary sensor that costs hundreds of dollars. “The same way that every doctor or nurse has a stethoscope, we want them to have our product,” he says. “There’s a need to image at high resolution in three dimensions in real time and it will transform medicine.”
Rothberg isn’t willing to disclose what the actual imaging technology is, except to say that it’s inspired by algorithms used in radar and radio astronomy. After seeing a talk by MIT physics professor Max Tegmark, whose research focuses on measuring the cosmos, Rothberg approached him about applying his work toward biology. The company has also hired engineers who specialize in using radar for imaging from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, says Rothberg, a serial entrepreneur who also founded RainDance Technologies and CuraGen.
Butterfly Network is also developing cloud software to help clinicians interpret imaging data. It intends to apply the artificial intelligence technique of deep learning to improve diagnoses. For instance, Rothberg says, software can look through thousands of images of kidney tumors, or fetuses to detect the possibility of Down Syndrome.
The company’s commercialization strategy is to have an imaging product for many uses, such as heart and fetal imagery and in emergency rooms. Then the hope is to develop a device for non-invasive surgery and aim for regulatory approval in a very specific area, similar to the pharmaceutical strategy of developing a new treatment for an orphan disease.
Butterfly Network isn’t the only company to attempt to miniaturize and slash the cost of medical imaging. Until the company discloses its core technology, it’s hard to compare its work to others. But at a high level, its approach is to use semiconductors and novel imaging techniques in its device, Rothberg says.
The company is based in Connecticut but it opened an office in New York City to get access to talented computer science professionals who have historically worked in finance. “I want to tell them it’s better to hack the human body than the financial system,” he says.