Media Release | Mar 10, 2014
Phone Oximeter receives major funding to increase production/distribution
A medical technology invented by UBC faculty receives major funding to scale up production and distribution to the developing world.
Developed by Mark Ansermino, Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and Guy Dumont, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Phone Oximeter measures blood oxygen levels through a light sensor attached to a person's fingertip. The sensor connects to a smartphone, tablet or laptop equipped with Phone Oximeter software, which analyzes and interprets the data for the user, with intuitive, symbols-based displays.
Grand Challenges Canada, a federal funding program seeking new ideas for improving health in the developing world, is providing $1 million for the roll-out, matched by $1 million from a group of investors led by Vancouver-based Coleco Investments.
The money is being provided to LionsGate Technologies -- a spin-off of UBC, the Child & Family Research Institute and BC Children's Hospital -- that will manufacture the device.
The funding will enable LionsGate to supply Phone Oximeters for a trial involving 80,000 women in four countries – India, Pakistan, Mozambique and Nigeria – to assess the technology’s usefulness in diagnosing high blood pressure during pregnancy, or pre-eclampsia. It’s the second-leading cause of maternal death worldwide, killing 76,000 women a year – almost of all of them in low- and middle-income countries.
Low oxygen levels in the blood, or hypoxia, is one of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia. The application will calculate a risk score, using both the pulse oximeter readings and other data that is manually entered by health workers. That score – developed by Peter von Dadelszen, a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology – provides advice about next steps, including treatment or referral. Dr. von Dadelszen will lead the trial.
The Phone Oximeter can also reveal dangerously low oxygen levels in patients with pneumonia, which kills more than 1 million children annually.
LionsGate Technologies intends to sell the device for $40 per unit – 80 per cent less expensive than any other device with comparable accuracy.
“It became clear to us that producing this through a for-profit company was the only way to make it sustainable,” said Dr. Ansermino, a co-founder with Dr. Dumont of LionsGate Technologies, and the company’s Chief Medical Officer. “The primary purpose of the business, however, is not to make a profit. It’s to make an impact.”
The company will also fund ongoing research to expand the device’s potential by UBC’s Electrical & Computer Engineering in Medicine group, which is led by Dr. Dumont and Dr. Ansermino.
Noting the poignant timing of the announcement, right after International Women’s Day (March 8), Grand Challenges Canada’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Peter Singer said: “This life-saving device is the ‘double-double’ of global health – it leverages both the global ubiquity of mobile phones and the know-how and financial resources of the private sector. We hope this innovation will move swiftly from its invention in a Vancouver lab to villages around the globe, creating jobs in Canada while saving lives around the world.”
After initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the innovation was subsequently awarded a seed grant in 2011 by Saving Lives at Birth, a partnership between Grand Challenges Canada (GCC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), the Government of Norway and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Grand Challenges Canada extended additional funding in 2012 through a proof-of-concept grant.