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12 November, 2019 - 14:25 By Tony Quested

Swell idea to combat heart failure risks seeks angel cash

A Cambridge HealthTech startup is using Artificial Intelligence to detect risks to heart failure patients in their homes.

Heartfelt Technologies, based on Cambridge Science Park, has instigated initial home trials for patients in Norfolk and Northamptonshire and is currently raising around £1 million of growth capital from angel funders to expand the venture to other parts of the region and wider UK.

Heartfelt was founded by entrepreneurs Oriane Chausiaux, Shamus Husheer and Gareth Williams. 

Chausiaux and Husheer had previously founded Cambridge IVF tech company Cambridge Temperature Concepts which marketed its DuoFertility product principally in the UK and US. New management was brought into CTC in 2014 and that business now trades – also from the Science Park – as Sensiia.

Chausiaux and Husheer have now developed an AI system which detects early danger signs of swelling in the ankle and legs – a telltale trigger for potential heart failure. It is designed to flag potential problems before patients need to be hospitalised.

The non-intrusive plug-in device automatically detects when the patient walks past and then checks for swelling around their ankles and legs. If there is an unexpected increase in swelling over several days their GP can be warned to review medications and so hopefully avoid a 999 call and emergency hospital visit. 

Chausiaux says: “This is very important for patients, especially as many are older and repeated hospital visits can put their independence and wellbeing at risk.

“Heart failure is a long-term medical condition that affects almost a million people in the UK. Also, many older patients suffer from dementia so do not always adhere to their medication regimes.

“This is a very exciting area of work and we are getting really good feedback from patients and clinicians.”

The business is currently funded by Cambridge and London Angels and the chairman is experienced entrepreneur Eddie Powell, who used to be Finance Director at Abcam. It currently employs nine people – four full time and five part time.

Volunteers

Fresh funding is being raised over the next few months. Chausiaux says: “The biggest drive at the moment is to recruit users/patients. Some form part of formal clinical trials answering specific scientific questions about the product but also we need volunteers who give us real-use data and feedback.”

Chausiaux anticipates that the business will have European patients by the summer of 2020 and it hopes to enrol a few US ones later next year; the device is already cleared for marketing in the EU and the US.

She says: “We have set up the company to patent, develop, regulate and do clinical trials and we hope to work with a large partner to commercialise it. They have all the systems in place (medical sales forces, etc) to make a success of it. We’ve had very positive discussions with possible partners but can’t say anything specific at this point.

“The ultimate customer for the devices would be NHS organisations here looking at preventing hospital admissions and insurance giants in the US. The potential for the business is vast in terms of impact in the healthcare segment.

“The problem we are solving is the large proportion of hospital admissions for heart failure that are due to a small number of patients who can’t adequately monitor their own health. 

“We do this with a 3D camera system and AI that automatically recognises, detects and tracks a key symptom of heart failure worsening: peripheral oedema (foot swelling) due to excess fluid retention. 

“The main non-invasive method for detecting fluid retention has been the use of weight as a surrogate marker, which works very well for the majority of heart failure patients and keeps them out of hospital.

“However, the majority of hospital admissions (and therefore the majority of cost associated with heart failure) are linked to the small sub-group who struggle with such routine measurements, hence our laser focus on this patient group and the need to design a system that is entirely passive and requires no specific patient interaction at all.

“Heart failure is the final common pathway of most forms of cardiovascular disease, and has a worse prognosis than most cancers. In the UK, it affects around 900,000 people, causes or complicates around five per cent of adult emergency hospital admissions and consumes up to two per cent of total NHS expenditure (>£2 billion/yr). 

“In England and Wales, heart failure accounted for more than 81,000 hospital admissions between 2015 and 2016. Furthermore, the 30 day readmission rate has been estimated to be more than 17 per cent and was as high as 30 per cent within 90 days - meaning that these people are going back to hospital again and again, which is obviously bad for the patient and massively costly for the NHS.”

Chausiaux has been able to bring a personal passion to both businesses she has co-founded.

She says: “Both fertility and heart failure have a special meaning to me, as I ended up experiencing a dozen miscarriages while I was trying to have my family. I am now blessed with three children but it wasn’t an easy process. 

“And my gran has heart failure (and dementia), so if I can be a small part of helping people like her avoid hospital admissions so that they can stay home surrounded by their loved ones instead of being in and out of hospital, I will be very proud of our achievement.

“Of course for these things to take off, the health economics need to make sense, but the business case for avoiding hospital admissions for heart failure is very clear.”

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