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Heart disease has long been the number one cause of death in the U.S. and some of the stats are startling: an American will have a heart attack approximately every 40 seconds for a total of 805,000 every year, over three quarters of whom will have one for the first time.
The problem has only gotten worse during the pandemic, said James K. Min, founder and CEO of Cleerly, a company that uses artificial intelligence to identify the features of plaques that may cause heart attacks.
"COVID significantly affected heart disease in that people did not get evaluated in a timely fashion. As a result of this, the field observed an increase in out-of-hospital heart attacks and deaths. The heart disease epidemic did not abate during the pandemic, with 2x more deaths from cardiovascular disease in 2020 than deaths from COVID-19," he told me.
To solve this ongoing, and growing, problem, Cleerly has developed a software platform that "enables whole-heart quantification and characterization of atherosclerosis, performed in a matter of minutes rather than hours and performed non-invasively." This allows Cleerly to measure the actual heart disease rather than surrogates or sequelae of disease.
The New York City-based company, which officially launched on Monday, also announced that it raised $43 million in Series B funding led by Vensana Capital with participation from LRVHealth, New Leaf Venture Partners, DigiTx Partners, the American College of Cardiology, Cigna Ventures, along with existing investors. This round brings Cleerly’s total funding to $54 million.
In conjunction with the funding, Cleerly also got three new board members: Justin Klein, co-founder and Managing Partner at Vensana Capital; Tripp Peake, Managing Partner at LRVHealth; and Vijay Lathi, Managing Director at New Leaf Venture Partners.
"These best-in-class healthcare investors offer a multi-dimensional look at healthcare from the perspectives of all stakeholders and support our efforts towards engendering quantum change at scale from the perspectives of medtech, digital health and healthcare," said Min.
Founded in 2017, Cleerly’s platform is aimed at every stakeholder in the care pathway, including imaging physicians, clinicians, patients, and payers. It includes a data visualization platform to improve the understanding of heart disease, patient-facing educational solutions, and automated data curation. It's also able to deliver coronary results in as quickly as one hour.
The platform uses AI and machine learning that is based on millions of annotated lab images, which the company used to build more than two dozen algorithms, which are capable of quantifying and characterizing the presence, extent, severity and type of coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular disorders.
There are, of course, a number of other startups looking to tackle the heart disease problem; that includes companies such as Hello Heart, Heartbeat Health, and AliveCor. What sets Cleerly apart is its focus, Min told me.
"These are all excellent companies but they are focused on other areas of cardiovascular disease, i.e. telemedicine for Heartbeat Health and abnormal heart rhythms for AliveCor. Cleerly is hyper-focused on coronary artery disease, the number one public health epidemic in the world and the condition that causes the greatest amount of death."
With its Series B funding, Cleerly says it will scale its commercial reach, expand operational capabilities and strategic partnerships, and continue to grow its focus on R&D.
"Our major focus is in the early diagnosis and treatment of coronary heart disease, and we work with population health management programs and hospitals to identify at-risk patients and enable medical treatment and lifestyle interventions," Min said.
"Our mission is to support physicians and patients in the identification of all at-risk patients at an early stage in the disease process where it can be stopped and managed, and when catastrophic heart attack events can be prevented."
(Image source: cleerlyhealth.com)
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