In an effort to gain new insights about the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe, Boston-based Biofourmis Inc. is leveraging its artificial intelligence (AI)-driven remote monitoring platform to monitor Hong Kong patients diagnosed or suspected of having COVID-19. The remote monitoring and disease surveillance program, which kicked off just a few days ago, is being administered by the University of Hong Kong and includes Biofourmis’ Hong Kong-based joint venture, Harmony Medical Inc.

Hong Kong has thus far avoided a large-scale outbreak of the novel coronavirus, but the number of cases continues to grow. So far, nearly 3,000 people have been quarantined due to suspected COVID-19 and almost 100 cases have been confirmed.

The goal of the Biofourmis and University of Hong Kong program is to two-fold: provide disease surveillance by remotely monitoring quarantined patients with suspected COVID-19 and detecting signs of disease progression; and remotely monitor diagnosed cases to learn how this new strain of the virus affects the body.

“We currently know the common symptoms, but we are still learning how this strain of the coronavirus affects the body,” said Kuldeep Singh Rajput, Biofourmis’ CEO. “This program will be a key step in achieving this important goal.”

The program could also benefit biopharmaceutical companies that are developing therapies for COVID-19 by helping to understand the efficacy and effectiveness of candidates in clinical trials.

Biofourmis hopes to onboard at least 500 patients into the program by the end of March, and gradually increase the number from there, Rajput told BioWorld.

More than 20 physiological signals

To accomplish its goals, the program uses the Biovitals Sentinel platform, a customized adaptation of Biofourmis AI-powered Biovitals Analytics platform, which Biofourmis pulled together in just two weeks. FDA-cleared in October 2019, Biovitals Analytics is a completely modularized platform comprised of to capture active and passive patient data and an analytics engine with more than 300 different modules.

Patients with COVID-19 typically display symptoms such as fever, cough and respiratory distress, all of which can be continuously monitored via Biofourmis’ medical-grade sensor, Everion, which patients wear on the arm. The sensor will capture more than 20 physiological signals from the sensor data, including temperature, heart rate, heart rate variability, blood pulse wave, respiration rate, inter-beat interval and oxygen saturation. Once captured, the data is sent to the cloud, processed and available to clinicians via Biovitals Sentinel’s clinician-facing web dashboard.

“With these parameters, the analytics platform takes them, looks at these subtle physiological changes and provides clinicians with information and alerts regarding progression of the symptoms of disease,” Rajput said.

Patients will also receive alerts about vital sign changes via a mobile app on their smartphones and be able to provide qualitative feedback. “Let’s say we see a significant increase in their respiration rate when they’re experiencing a shortness of breath or their temperature increases, or both, we [can] send questions to patients to collect feedback … a more subjective way,” Rajput said.

Ensuring access

To make the program more accessible, Biofourmis and Harmony Medical are donating the platform and devices for patients who are already infected with COVID-19. People who are quarantined with suspected COVID-19 can get a 50% discount on the price of the sensor and app. “Ours is a low-cost, prescription based model for patients, where each patient typically, in this case, is monitored for anywhere from 14 days to a month,” Rajput said.

Biofourmis is in early talks with several other countries, including the U.S. and South Korea, about using Biovitals Sentinel. The U.S. CDC has urged the use of digital and virtual tools to increase surveillance and limit the spread of COVID-19. Health care workers are particularly at risk of contracting the virus because of their contact with infected patients. A recent study in JAMA found that of 138 patients with COVID-19 at a single facility in Wuhan, China, 29% were health care workers.

The company is also in discussions with possible pharmaceutical partners regarding the COVID-19 tool, Rajput said.

Biofourmis’ technology could be quickly leveraged to address future disease outbreaks. “The way that our Biovitals platform is architected, it’s very scalable,” he said, “like a menu where you can plug in features” for new diseases or conditions.