American Heart Association Center for Health Technology & Innovation

SoftBank Leads $100 Million Investment In AI And Digital Therapeutics Startup Biofourmis

SoftBank Leads $100 Million Investment In AI And Digital Therapeutics Startup Biofourmis

Kuldeep Singh Rajput quit his PhD program in 2015 to pursue a lofty goal: use artificial intelligence to predict disease before it happens. That knowledge, garnered from wearable sensors, could help drive treatment and medication decisions, improving overall health for patients. Today his company, Biofourmis, is using AI to help treat heart disease and remotely monitor patients with a range of conditions, including Covid-19. Biofourmis announced Wednesday it raised a $100 million Series C round, led by Softbank Investment Advisers, to further expand and develop its product portfolio, which includes digital therapeutics for pain and cancer.

“There’s this whole new era, which has evolved, of how do you use software to treat and manage disease,” says Rajput, an alum of the 2019 Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 list. Boston-based Biofourmis uses artificial intelligence to predict medical complications, but then adds another layer: treatment algorithms that help to “optimize the right dose, to the right patient, at the right time,” he explains. While it may seem obvious that patients should take the right dose of their medication, it doesn’t always work that way in practice, especially with chronic diseases like heart failure, which leads to billions of dollars worth of unnecessary hospitalizations and readmissions in the U.S.

The funding round represents the latest bet by SoftBank’s second Vision Fund, which debuted earlier this year after months fraught with criticism. It is focused on artificial intelligence as a disruptive force, and companies such as Biofourmis that are able to quickly adapt technology to changes in the business environment like the coronavirus pandemic. Return investors EDBI, MassMutual Ventures, Openspace Ventures and Sequoia also joined the round, bringing Biofourmis’ total venture funding to $145 million to date.

Rajput grew up in Bangalore, India, and was initially interested in electrical engineering. After university, he spent a year at MIT’s Media lab in 2014, where his interest in biosensors, artificial intelligence, and health came together. During his time at MIT, Rajput built algorithms that were capable of detecting sleep apnea and cardiac arrhythmia. Excited by the possibilities, he next pursued a PhD in neuroscience at the National University of Singapore, where he met fellow student Wendou Niu. In 2015, Rajput decided to drop out and the two cofounded Biofourmis together while Niu continued working on his doctorate, which he completed in 2016. (Niu is now the company’s chief privacy officer).

Biofourmis has a two-pronged approach to predicting and treating diseases. The first is partnering with health systems to remotely monitor patients and prevent hospital readmissions, such as people with heart failure or those undergoing CAR-T treatment for cancer. The second approach involves partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to improve clinical outcomes on certain medications.

Bioforumis generates revenue from software contracts on a per patient per month basis. The company has partnered with seven pharmaceutical companies and 10 health systems, and most of the funding will go towards scaling up operations across two newly created business divisions: health and therapeutics.

In November, Biofourmis announced a collaboration with Novartis to use sensors and analytics to monitor patients in Southeast Asia, who are taking the heart failure drug Entresto. “Novartis is looking to transform medicine by looking into patient outcomes beyond our medicines,” Miguel Rivera, business model transformation head, Novartis Asia Cluster, said in an email. “By providing services that go beyond the pill, we believe that patients could get access to a better quality treatment throughout personalized monitoring outside a hospital setting.”

Currently, Biofourmis has 150 employees across four offices in the United States, Singapore, Switzerland and India. Rajput expects a period of rapid hiring, possibly growing up to 250 employees by the end of the year. The company is also looking to expand into new markets and grow its footprint in the U.S. and Asia Pacific.

The funding round makes Biofourmis the fourth healthcare technology investment for SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, first announced in 2019. “We believe predictive health is the future of medicine,” Greg Moon, an Asia-focused managing partner at the Vision Fund, said in an email. The other three healthtech companies in Vision Fund 2 include liquid biopsy startup Karius, prescription delivery and digital pharmacy Alto and precision gene therapy company Encoded Therapeutics. “We believe the healthcare sector is ripe for digital disruption and we are excited to see companies like Biofourmis deliver new AI-driven approaches that can help save lives,” he added.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 investments come as the Japan-based holding company has struggled to find outside investors after its original $100 billion Vision Fund has seen a tumultuous couple of years. That has included high-profile flame-outs, including catastrophically overvaluing WeWork and backing Uber at a price that has seen SoftBank’s stake at times underwater. But SoftBank Group chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son preached patience to Forbes in a cover story earlier this year, vowing to stay the course with his second fund, following his thesis that AI represents a new technological revolution. “Going forward with the power of AI, it’s going to disrupt every other industry,” Son said then.

Biofourmis fits that disruption through its recent ability to pivot quickly as the market—and global economy—shifted rapidly this year. When the Covid-19 pandemic first emerged in January, the company was primarily focused on cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses and cancer. However, in February, Rajput’s team quickly setup a new program to help governments, including Hong Kong and Singapore, remotely monitor the health of Covid-19 positive patients.

The platform includes an armband sensor manufactured by Biovotion, which Biofourmis acquired last year, paired with an app for patients. It continually analyzes the patient’s biomarkers for signals, which are communicated to the physician via an online dashboard. Over the past five months, more than 100,000 Covid-19 patients have used the Biofourmis platform.

The need to remotely monitor patients during the pandemic has accelerated the demand for Biofourmis’ other product offerings as well. “A majority of these patients, like heart failure and oncology, need to be kept out of hospital and remotely managed,” says Rajput. He declined to provide revenue numbers, but said the first half of 2020 has seen 10x growth compared to 2019. The company has already seen a period of rapid expansion, including three acquisitions in the past 18 months and 200% year-over-year revenue growth from 2018.

At the beginning of the year, Rajput says he wasn’t expecting to complete this big of a fundraising round. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the company to grow more quickly, though he’s confident his team can handle it. “The fundraise was really geared towards the market opportunity,” Rajput says. “What SoftBank could bring to us, from opening up new markets like Japan, China and the Middle East, where they have great experience, and [Masayoshi Son] himself believing in the vision of the company.”

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