Smart orthopedic implant developer Canary Medical turns toward the heart

Canary Medical, the former Fierce 15-winning developer of smart orthopedic implants, is stretching its wings—with plans to move beyond bones and joints and into connected cardiovascular devices.

The company announced it has completed an early, first-in-human trial of a sensor-equipped cardiac implant that can listen to the sounds of a beating heart for the bubbling of a leaky valve or signs of other conditions. 

Canary also wants the device—which it described as the first implantable acoustic monitor of its kind—to help track the effectiveness of medications among patients suffering from congestive heart failure.

According to the company, the limited study included two patients in Paraguay and was able to record and identify the sounds that signal mitral valve regurgitation. The results will also help establish the sensor’s sensitivity and specificity, as well as the final design of its microphone system.

In a recent interview with Fierce Medtech, CEO Bill Hunter said Canary’s move into heart disease from knees, hips and shoulders isn’t necessarily a major departure for the company.

“My whole technical team, we're all cardiovascular folks—actually, we ended up accidentally in orthopedics,” said Hunter, an M.D. whose work in previous companies focused on heart disease devices and treatments. “Only now, we have the toys so that we can do something about it.”

And as the company continues to build out its cloud-connected digital platform and early warning features, he said that both fields of medicine can benefit from taking the same approaches to data-driven prevention.

“I really feel like we’re right on the tipping point of something significant,” he said. “I'll meet with a lot of docs, and justifiably they'll say to me, ‘I've been doing this for 25 years, and my patients are happy. I don't really know what these devices add to it.’” 

“And we’ll say, here's the situation: We know for a fact that 50% of patients are lost to follow-up… and those patients might not come back until they’re already in bad shape. If we can identify those people, then pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, I'm a little worried about what you're doing'—the patients love that, right? It's good care.”

Canary launched its smart knee add-on, Canturio, in 2021 through a partnership with Zimmer Biomet; the sensor slots into the implant to help monitor a patient’s gait and joint performance following a replacement procedure. Meanwhile, the company’s Persona IQ data platform helps automatically log metrics such as range of motion, step count and walking speed.

Hunter also said that Canary hopes to build out its monitoring platform to help smarten up a wide range of medical implants in the future.

“I always get in trouble for saying this because it sounds kind of flippant, but when you live in a world where your refrigerator is connected to the internet—I mean, we’re talking about life-saving medical devices that cost thousands and thousands,” Hunter said. “And when an implant goes wrong, it's going to be a $100,000 mistake.”

“If it gets infected, or if there are complications—that and rescue surgery are just terrible for the patient,” he added. “So it seems inconceivable to me that we don't do everything we can to get some sort of feedback from the device.”

“We put it in and then what do we do? We do X-rays and MRIs to try and figure out what's going on. But we never bother to put something in it in the first place. So I would be shocked if we're sitting here 10 years from now and most medical devices don't have some sort of connectivity.”