AI medtech Opum inks national partnership with Habit Health, reveals $10m Series A plan

Auckland startup Opum is applying the latest wireless sensor and artificial intelligence technology to an age-old problem: how to fix a bung knee.

And it’s now getting some serious financial backing and industry support as it enters the commercial phase of its life.

Its sensor clips to a knee brace or sleeve, feeding data about a patient’s movements to a smartphone app – from when they’re actually exercising to detecting a problem with their gait when they’re going for a regular walk.

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Opum’s AI platform then crunches the data, with its algorithms producing reports that can help an orthopaedic surgeon or physiotherapist come up with the best treatment and more personalised care.

Founder Andrew McDaid says it helps give medical professionals a better picture of how a patients’ muscular-skeletal injury, which in turn feeds into better and more cost-effective treatment.

Using clinical triage tools Opum predicts patient complexity on the first visit, assesses therapy needs and identifies patients who would benefit from surgery, McDaid says.

The firm was founded by McDaid in 2016 as a spinout from his research as an Associate Professor at Auckland University, and it began selling its “Digital Knee” platform

The University’s commercialisation arm, Uniservices, holds a 10 per cent stake in Opum, which has also drawn financial backing from Tauranga’s WNT Ventures, Pacific Channel and Crown venture capital agency NZ Growth Capital Partners – and, on the research side, financial support from organisations including The Royal Society and the US Department of Defence through grants from the Office of Naval Research.

$10m Series A round in the works

McDaid says the firm has raised around $5 million in seed funding so far. The founder plans a Series A raise next year, which he pegs at a minimum $10 million, which will be used primarily for expansion in North America.

Opum already has two of its dozen staff in the US, who are signing on surgeons to its Digital Knee platform.

“What we’re proving at the moment is that we have a scalable product and business model and that’s starting to become very clear. So the next phase of the business will be to really expand the US commercial team and scale that out across the US.”

Other expansion is already underway.

In August, Opum signed a partnership with Thuasne, a French multinational medical device maker.

The pair’s first product will integrate Opum’s Digital Knee care platform with Rebel
Reliever OA (osteoarthritis) knee brace.

And this week, the startup has announced a partnership with Habit Health, New Zealand’s largest integrated health, fitness and physiotherapy rehabilitation provider.

ACC co-designed a programme called Escalated Care Pathways with Habit Heath and other care providers, with the aim of better treatment for back, knee and shoulder injuries.

“Escalated Care Pathways are designed to encourage innovation in the care journey,” ACC health sector partnerships manager Fraser Wilkins says.

“We look forward to seeing the impact on patient outcomes through evidence-based decision making that this partnership between Opum and Habit Health aims to achieve.”

Pandemic provides a hurry-along

McDaid says while the pandemic has stressed the healthcare system, it’s also exposed the limitations of more traditional remote health solutions, such as telephone or video consultations, and encouraged many providers to finally embrace digital technologies.

“The pandemic has given us really probably five years’ worth of acceleration and you know, the space of really a few months,” McDaid says.

A clutch of AI-based med-tech startups have emerged from Auckland University research over the past couple of years, including Toku Eyes, Formus Labs and HeartLab.

And like his peers, McDaid has the same message: it’s not about AI and machine-learning replacing doctors, but automating analysis to help free up their time in what is often an over-stretched profession. AI analysis is also faster than traditional methods and allows decisions about treatment to be based on objective data.

The algorithms provide the clinical team with another piece of clinical reasoning to complement the interdisciplinary team assessment, McDaid says.

“It’s about giving the right patient the right care at the right time.”

The CEO says a huge orthopaedic surgery backlog due built up in the US during lockdowns. He sees a big role for technologies like Opum’s as surgeries reopen, and patients need to be put into an order of priority. He sees the same happening in other countries.

While many are combining sensors with braces, sleeves or wearables, McDaid says his company’s combination of sensors, remote monitoring and AI insights has no direct competitor. And, with machine learning, he sees Opum’s knowledge base getting better and better over time.

And where a lot of healthcare startups, such as those in telehealth, have threatened the business model of traditional providers, McDaid says Opum’s approach is complementary and collaborative.

“With AI insights, we’re going to help Habit Health enhance what they’re doing with bricks and mortar.”

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