Guiding the hands of clinicians with AI to quickly scan the body.
CEO: Charles Cadieu
Based: San Francisco
The scoop: Caption Health is chasing one of the great dreams of sci-fi: hardware smart enough to deliver advanced medicine anywhere, and help providers quickly understand their patients’ hidden conditions.
Its artificial intelligence-driven programs can coach a technician, regardless of their previous experience, step-by-step on gathering ultrasound images of the heart to observe the muscle’s anatomy and how strong it pumps with every beat.
The complicated task typically requires specialized training, years of practice and deft hand-eye coordination to correctly manipulate the probe and acquire an image clear enough to evaluate for signs of a heart attack or other serious conditions.
But Caption’s AI knows what to look for and can guide any professional’s movements in real-time by prompting them to slowly rotate and move the transducer, for example, until the picture is reviewable. The program then automatically records the best scans and calculates important heart measurements such as ejection fraction.
The device can be used in hospital emergency rooms as well as smaller clinics and doctors’ offices, making cardiac ultrasound a widely accessible skill and service.
“This is one of those things I’ve just loved to imagine for the future, for how AI is going to be this lever to bring up the standard-of-care across the healthcare environment,” Caption co-founder and CEO Charles Cadieu said in an interview.
Ultrasound has become an especially necessary diagnostic technology for use against COVID-19, as the novel coronavirus can attack not only the lungs but also the heart muscle. Caption’s AI allows hospital staff already in a COVID patient's room to perform the exam, as opposed to calling in and potentially exposing a specialist for every procedure, Cadieu said.
What makes Caption Health fierce: Following a breakthrough device designation, the company’s program first received a landmark de novo clearance from the FDA in early 2020.
Just a few months later, and after the pandemic was in full swing, the agency granted Caption a new clearance after only 25 days of review. The updated version included additional types of guidance and improvements in the algorithm’s performance.
The quick regulatory turnaround was driven not only by an urgent demand for COVID-related heart diagnostics but also by a predetermined change control plan that Caption has established with the FDA.
“We looked up the data, and that was faster than 99% of all FDA clearances over the past five years,” Cadieu said. By outlining these changes and validation processes ahead of time, Caption hopes to see the same speed of updates as it develops its AI software for new ultrasound machines, including more portable and handheld devices.
Additionally, Caption won a $4.95 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to expand the reach of its AI from heart scans to lung scans, which requires a similar level of expertise. The goal is to enable screenings for potentially fatal cases of pneumonia among young children in underserved communities, as well as for other conditions and for patients with COVID-19.
“It’s usually a long road before you really see the clinical benefits you are trying to achieve,” Cadieu said. “When you look at what it takes to deliver a medical device, often those [milestones] each happen in one year after another, as opposed to all grouped into a pretty great 2020.”
Investors: Caption’s July 2020 series B funding round raised $53 million from DCVC, Khosla Ventures, Atlantic Bridge and the cardiovascular device-maker Edwards Lifesciences.