Exclusive: Sonde Health raises $19M Series B to prime its vocal tech
Sonde Health raised $19.25 million in Series B funding to globalize its voice-based disease screening technology with partners in Korea and India, CEO David Liu tells Axios exclusively.
Why it matters: Noninvasive health tracking gained significant traction during to the pandemic, and vocal markers have long loomed as a lucrative potential arena for further exploration.
Deal details: Partners Investment led the round, bringing Sonde's total raised capital to just over $35 million. NEOM Investment Fund, KT Corporation, and insiders PureTech Health, M Ventures, MP Healthcare Venture Management, Neoteny and Evidity Health Capital also participated.
- As part of the raise, Partners managing director Joonsoo Kim will join Sonde’s board of directors.
- Sonde plans to use the fresh capital to expand nationally into East and Southeast Asia, further refine and validate its products with clinical trials and build tools for more health conditions.
- "We're beginning to prove out and validate everything we’re talking about," says Liu.
How it works: Sonde licenses its respiratory and behavioral health screening technology to telehealth, pharmaceutical and medical companies.
- The company's tech measures a range of vocal biomarkers, like smoothness, control, liveliness (assessed by change in pitch), speech patterns and clarity, which can indicate a patient's behavioral health.
- Sonde's platform also measures respiratory health, analyzing breath and vocal capacity.
- "For the first time in a long time we have the ability to not bother people — rather than going in to get a diagnostic or running an invasive test at home — voice provides an early warning system," Liu says.
- The convenience and potential of vocal biomarkers to detect a wide array of illnesses drive the interest.
Yes, and: Sonde claims to have the largest and most diverse health-labeled voice dataset, consisting of some 1.2 million voice samples from roughly 85,000 subjects across four continents.
Reality check: While COVID-19 in particular helped Sonde hone its tech on respiratory illness, the company does not plan to invest further in COVID research, Liu and Kim tell Axios.
- "We see that [Covid] work as a proof-of-concept for respiratory conditions," says Kim.
- "Thinking any one device could be a diagnostic for depression and anxiety — it’s just so difficult," says Liu. "But if we can provide [vocal] data and insights to a doctor or therapist, it really does enrich the medical workflow."
- Further, while Sonde sees promise in its tech as a screening tool, it is not yet capable of diagnosing any conditions.
Zoom in: The disease areas where the company is doing research include:
- Depression and anxiety, where the company is running 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 early research stages with partners including the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
- Driving impairment, where it is just beginning to assess its potential with car makers including Tesla.
State of play: Startups and tech giants alike have amped up their voice efforts in the health sector in recent years. For example:
- Eleos Health, a startup using voice technology to analyze behavioral health sessions, in April raised $20 million in Series A funding.
- Microsoft in March spent $19.7 billion on the acquisition of Nuance, which assists clinicians with note-taking during patient visits.
What's next: The company recently inked its second of two arrangements with Qualcomm to build chipsets with Sonde's vocal biomarker technology built in.
- The first arrangement, in 2021, focused on mobile device chipsets; the current deal also includes IoT chipsets that could go into devices such as wearables.
- "By the first quarter of next year we’ll have a working version of our tech on mobile chipsets," Liu says.