Exclusive: Sonde Health raises $19M Series B to spot illness in voice

Sonde Health raised $19.25 million in Series B funding to globalize its voice-based disease detection technology with partners in Korea and India. CEO David Liu tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Non-invasive health monitoring gained significant traction during the pandemic, and vocal markers have long appeared as a potentially lucrative field for further exploration.

Offer details: Partners Investment led the round, bringing Sonde’s total raised capital to just over $35 million. Also participating were NEOM Investment Fund, KT Corporation and experts PureTech Health, M Ventures, MP Healthcare Venture Management, Neoteny and Evidity Health Capital.

  • As part of the increase, Managing Director of Partners Joonsoo Kim will join Sonde’s board of directors.
  • Sonde plans to use the fresh capital to expand nationwide in East and Southeast Asia, further refine and validate its products with clinical trials, and build tools for more health conditions.
  • “We’re starting to test and validate everything we’re talking about,” Liu says.

How does it work: Sonde licenses its respiratory and behavioral health screening technology to medical, pharmaceutical and telehealth companies.

  • The company’s technology measures a variety of vocal biomarkers, including softness, control, liveliness (assessed by pitch change), speech patterns, and clarity, which can indicate a patient’s behavioral health.
  • Sonde’s platform also measures respiratory health, analyzing breathing and vocal ability.
  • “For the first time in a long time, we have the ability to not disturb people, instead of getting a diagnosis or doing an invasive test at home, voice provides an early warning system,” says Liu.
  • The convenience and potential of vocal biomarkers to detect a wide range of diseases generate interest.
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Yes, and: Sonde claims to have the largest and most diverse health-tagged speech dataset, consisting of approximately 1.2 million speech samples from approximately 85,000 subjects on four continents.

Reality check: While COVID-19 in particular has helped Sonde hone its technology on respiratory diseases, the company does not plan to invest more in COVID research, Liu and Kim told Axios.

  • “We see that [Covid] work as a proof of concept for respiratory diseases,” says Kim.
  • “To think that any device could be a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, it’s very difficult,” says Liu. “But if we can provide [vocal] data and ideas to a doctor or therapist, it really enriches the medical workflow.”
  • Also, while Sonde sees its technology as promising as a screening tool, it is not yet capable of diagnosing any conditions.

Getting closer: Disease areas the company is investigating include:

  • Depression and anxiety, where the company is conducting a validation study of its tools with McMaster University.
  • Asthma, cystic fibrosis and COPD, where most of the company’s efforts are still in the development phase with partners including Montefiore and the University of Cambridge.
  • Dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment, where it remains in the early stages of research with partners including the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
  • Driving impairment, where it is just beginning to assess its potential with automakers, including Tesla.

Status of the situation: Both start-ups and tech giants have intensified their voice efforts in the healthcare sector in recent years. For example:

Yes, but: amazon, what last year deployed its Alexa devices in various hospitals and in February unveiled a partnership with Teladocit is end support by their HIPAA-protected Alexa tool.

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Whats Next: The company recently signed its second of two deals with Qualcomm to build chipsets with Sonde’s voice biomarker technology incorporated.

  • The first deal, in 2021, focused on chipsets for mobile devices; the current deal also includes IoT chipsets that could be incorporated into devices such as wearables.
  • “By the first quarter of next year we will have a working version of our technology on mobile chipsets,” says Liu.

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