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British AI liberates precision diagnosis


A UK start-up focused on diagnosing respiratory illness efficiently and cost-effectively is mixing things up and heads out to Mumbai this year to help 10,000 children under five, as Kathryn Reilly discovers

Health systems worldwide are centred around a sparse and unevenly distributed resource – healthcare professionals. This works well for some of us who only need medical attention irregularly and are fortunate to live in an area with good healthcare access. However, with a global shortage of 7.2 million healthcare professionals, many of us can’t get the care we need, when we need it, at a price we can afford. This stretches from the 1 million young children who die annually of a completely treatable disease (pneumonia, for example), to the millions of elderly people who suffer avoidable hospitalisations and rapidly declining independence due to complex chronic conditions.

Relieving hospital pressure

Feebris is a UK-based start-up, developing a powerful AI-engine to deliver precision diagnosis away from the hospital. The engine takes measurements from off-the-shelf point-of-care devices, like a digital stethoscope or a medical wearable, and scans them for a wide range of disease markers. For example, the engine can be integrated into a smart-phone application and connected to digital stethoscopes to analyse their signals and identify pathological lung sounds, much like a pulmonologist. It then combines these. Once it has detected such advanced markers, the engine combines them with conventional vital signs, like respiratory rate and oxygen saturation, to identify the presence of a disease or a complication.

The company is first targeting the huge burden of respiratory conditions, like pneumonia and asthma. In 2017, pneumonia caused the deaths of 809,000 children and 1.1m elderly people. It has been estimated that more than 40 per cent of these deaths are avoidable through early diagnosis.

In the UK, Feebris is focusing on elderly communities for whom a delayed identification of a health complication often results in avoidable hospitalisations. With a chronic shortage of doctors, the NHS is unable to satisfy an increasing demand for doctors’ time. In just a decade, the number of annual GP appointments per person has doubled, from three to six. For elderly patients, living with complex chronic conditions like asthma, regular monitoring is essential for the timely identification of exacerbations. It has been estimated that more effective community-based healthcare for the elderly could reduce GP consultations by 27 per cent (£1bn saving) and emergency admissions by 24 per cent (£1.4bn saving).

The complexities of elderly care

Existing tools and guidelines have been developed for the identification and management of individual health issues. Yet, the average elderly patient suffers from multiple complex conditions and takes multiple drugs. Feebris has been establishing partnerships with leaders in elderly care, from retirement villages to carer & GP organisations, to ensure their AI-engine evolves to capture the complex needs of elderly people living in different settings and experiencing a wide range of health challenges. The technology can integrate with conventional telemonitoring systems that run stations of devices in pharmacies or care homes, as well as up-and-coming medical wearables that host a whole range of health sensors in a single small device that can be worn continuously.

Feebris is using the same technology to tackle global health challenges in emerging markets such as India. Following a successful clinical study that demonstrated the ability of AI to diagnose childhood pneumonia, Feebris is evolving its engine to power early identification of childhood diseases in countries with weak or non-existent primary care systems. For conditions like childhood pneumonia, early diagnosis can be the difference between life and death. By putting the technology into the hands of community health workers, Feebris hopes to empower a growing workforce to be an engine for sustainable community health.

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Going global

This year, Feebris will be deploying its technology in Mumbai, India, to provide detection of respiratory issues for 10,000 children under the age of five. In just 10 minutes, a healthcare worker performs measurements, much like in a regular GP examination. The Feebris mobile app analyses all that data and informs the health worker whether the child is at risk of pneumonia and has to see a doctor. Early detection of conditions like pneumonia can save children’s lives and money for individuals and healthcare providers. Delayed diagnosis of pneumonia often results in hospitalisation, escalating treatment costs by more than 30-fold.

Dr Elina Naydenova

The team behind Feebris is led by co-founders Dr Elina Naydenova and Adam Bacon. Elina holds a PhD in Machine Learning for Healthcare Innovation from the University of Oxford and has spent the last five years working on global health projects. Adam is a business strategist who has worked in engineering, consulting and entrepreneurship. The team is passionate about bringing precision healthcare beyond the clinic where it can have the most impact on early detection and prevention. Elina was recently an invited speaker at WHO’s Global Conference on Primary Healthcare, where countries signed the Declaration of Astana – a global commitment to delivering universal healthcare. Technology has an essential role to play in this commitment, helping traditional healthcare infrastructure scale into communities.

Feebris has been gaining traction across the start-up ecosystem, taking place in business accelerators like HS.live and Panacea Stars, and reaching the finals of business competitions. Earlier this year, the team won the Big Ideas Competition organised by RGA & Cover Magazine and, was named one of the Top 500 deeptech start-ups worldwide by Hello Tomorrow, as well as one of UK’s healthtech start-ups to watch by TechWorld.

Adam Bacon

More recently, Feebris was awarded support from Social Tech Trust to grow the application of their trials with elderly people around the UK. The grant was awarded as part of the charity’s Tech to Unite Us programme, which aims to demonstrate the transformative potential of tech when it’s driven to promote equality. Feebris is one of nine inspiring ventures to receive grant funding and support to grow and maximise their social impact. Social Tech Trust has over a decade of experience in supporting more than 750 initiatives, making over £30m of investment in the flourishing social tech movement. Drawing on their experience, the Trust is now focused on tech enabling transformative change in the areas of Communities, Health and Wealth.

About the author

Journalist and editor Kathryn Reilly has worked in consumer, contract and medical writing for more than 20 years.

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