A pair of Israeli health tech companies, Beyond Verbal and Healthymize, plan to merge to form Newton, Mass.-based Vocalis Health. The company will be focused on developing vocal biomarkers, which track voice patterns via phone calls or smart devices to screen for various voice-indicating ailments including chronic respiratory and cardiac conditions, as well as depression.

Vocalis has raised a $9 million financing led by Israeli health tech and life science venture firm Amoon to accumulate additional clinical data and enhance its voice database. It aims to secure regulatory clearances with a product launch slated for 2020.

Tal Wenderow will be the president and CEO of the newly formed company, after having led Beyond Verbal which he joined after being the co-founder and executive vice president of product and business development with Corindus Vascular Robotics that was acquired by Siemens Healthineers for about $1.1 billion.

Remote patient access

“After Corindus, I had to figure out: what did I want to do with my life and what company did I want to be associated with? To me the thing that attracted me the most was the triangle between digital health, voice and AI. With each vertical, all of them are exploding right now. When you combine them together and especially when you think about the untapped sense of the human body this was a very good opportunity,” Wenderow explained to BioWorld MedTech.

“Personally, what drives me is how to make an impact,” he continued. “With Corindus, we were trying to change the relationship between the physician and the patient by providing remote catheterization. With Vocalis, we are bridging the same gap between the provider and the patient – but it’s a little bit higher in the food chain to try to connect outside of the hospital and in the hospital and how to provide information early on. It’s all about how [to] provide insight and translate that to actionable items for the patient[s] and the health care system.”

The technology generates vocal biomarkers based on the human voice. AI breaks down voice features and identifies correlations with various medical conditions. It’s expected to work to track an individual patient with a specific condition over time to monitor deterioration or improvement with treatment. In addition, Vocalis is focused on using this technology as a population health screening tool that could be applied to vast quantities of data collected from call centers or devices.

Early applications

“The way the technology works is we generate vocal biomarkers from the human voice. The best way to explain it is we take a voice and break it into voice features and then train machine learning and deep learning to correlate those voice features to medical conditions,” said Wenderow. “We have personalized technology to create a baseline to a patient and then follow them remotely by comparing to baseline over time and how that correlates to health. In parallel, we also have the ability to look at population data and patterns.”

In population health, Vocalis has developed a system to detect chronic conditions from 10,000 unique patient recordings by correlating vocal traits to their medical record. It’s launching pilot studies of the system currently in the U.S. The goal is to reduce hospital readmissions by identifying the sickest patients who might need additional treatment early.

The first application that Vocalis expects to present to regulators and get on the market is vocal tracking to detect respiratory disease, particularly identifying the shortness of breath that is associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It’s conducting a pair of clinical trials, one in 100 patients from Geisinger Health System to collect voice samples and monitor them daily over the course of six months.

Vocalis then expects to submit for a CE mark in Europe and then for 510(k) clearance from the U.S. FDA for this application; if all goes well it hopes to start commercializing it next year. In addition, the company is looking to develop a range of other potential vocal biomarkers for everything from depression to sleep apnea.

“Vocalis wants to be positioned as the leader in vocal biomarkers. We want to go horizontal to have an array of vocal biomarkers and vertical to progress them through validation, the regulatory path and start going to market,” said Wenderow. “Our focus is: How do we advance our vocal biomarker portfolio? How do we advance our database and get more clinical trials, more pilots, more post-market surveillance on more voice information that’s correlated with medical records? Also, how do we launch products – who is the customer, what is the user interface? And then start getting early adopters in the U.S. and Europe.”

The two merging companies, Beyond Verbal and Healthymize, were pursuing similar goals but the combination is expected to accrue benefits in terms of the technology reach. "The merger of Beyond Verbal and Healthymize sets a precedent for early-stage startups in the Israeli market,” said Roy Wiesner, managing director at Amoon. "We quickly realized the opportunity of combining forces by leveraging their joint datasets, pipelines, strengths and talents, to create a leader in the vocal biomarkers space."

The Healthymize co-founder and CEO, Shady Hassan, will become the chief medical officer and COO of Vocalis.

"During my work as a physician, I noticed that patients' voices can be indicative of their health status. Similar to the way that my ear could detect a change in the patient's status by listening to their voice, a sophisticated AI-based algorithm could do the same consistently on smart devices,” Hassan summed up. “Combining the teams will maximize our efforts to generate new clinical data, while continuing to develop new vocal biomarkers in other fields like congestive heart failure, sleep apnea, neurological disorders, and mental health.”