A new activity tracking platform is launching out of stealth today with $1 million in pre-seed funding, aiming to help people suffering from Lung COVID detect and manage their symptoms.
The global pandemic end can be within sight for many, but millions of people worldwide are still experiencing long-term effects of COVID-19, according to studies suggesting so somewhere between 20% and 40% of those who contracted COVID-19 experiencing persistent symptoms such as mild fatigue, ‘brain fog’, headache, nausea, weakness and difficulty breathing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that “at least” 17 million people in Europe alone experienced Long COVID in the first two years of the pandemic, a figure that has reached as high as 145 million worldwide. But with much of the healthcare industry still trying put the Lung COVID puzzle together, Visible goes to market to help patients address what is widely considered the number one lung COVID symptom. Post-exertional malaise (PEM) describes the worsening of the symptoms of a condition after even minor physical exertion, and it is also common in ME / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
One way to counteract the effects of PEM is to adopt a “pacing” strategy, which involves a delicate balancing act between rest and activity. Visible aims to help millions of people through a wearable and smartphone app for consumers, and they succeeded launch the first part of its product in open beta today.
Making the invisible visible
Visible is initially available as a free mobile app, with plans to introduce a premium subscription in the US and UK in the coming months. This includes one Polar Verity Sense heart rate monitor (HRM), designed to be worn on the upper arm to passively record necessary data throughout the day.
However, for now, Visible will operate entirely through manual data entry through morning and evening check-ins. This includes measuring heart rate variability (HRV) – the time between each heartbeat – which can be an indicator of a person’s health and well-being. So how can Visible track this if it doesn’t actively support a heart rate monitor yet? Well, smartphone cameras can help through a technique called photoplethysmography (PPG), which is shown to be a somewhat effective alternative to ECG in terms of analyzing HRV in humans.
Essentially, Visible uses PPG to detect slight changes in a person’s skin color, with the user holding their finger on their camera’s lens for sixty seconds each morning.
“These changes allow us to measure the time between heartbeats and calculate heart rate and heart rate variability,” Leeming explained to australiabusinessblog.com.
Over time, Visible helps users track their symptoms and discover trends.
However, with continuous tracking through a physical HRM, Visible promises to be much more effective in terms of helping users adopt an effective pacing strategy, ensure they don’t overexert themselves, and give their bodies more time to recover.
This includes real-time data and alerts when excessive user activity is detected, which can exacerbate existing symptoms and hinder recovery.
“This approach fits in published research showing that these kinds of alerts can improve functional outcomes for people living with post-viral disease,” Leeming said. “This works because of post-viral disease leads to one compromised aerobic energy system. By keeping your activity level below a certain threshold, you can prevent a disturbed energy metabolism response, which leads to aggravation of the symptoms.”
Using passively collected data from a wearable, Visible can generate disease-specific statistics, or digital biomarkers as they are called, enabling people to make decisions based on “hard numbers” rather than subjective estimates of the severity of their condition.
For example, those who pay for a Visible Plus subscription and use the associated wearable will benefit from accelerometer and gyroscope data from the Polar Verity Sense. This allows Visible to determine things like ‘orthostatic intolerance’ or the body’s biological response to move from a lying position to an upright position. This can show the impact that changing one’s posture has on a change in heart rate.
In terms of pricing, this has yet to be finalized, but Leeming said it will be in the rough margins of other consumer subscription services a la Netflix or Spotify. So we’re probably talking about about $10 a month, give or take. If someone already owns their own Polar Verity Sense bracelet, Visible says the subscription is offered at a discount and there may be room to extend support to devices from other manufacturers.
“We expect to support a wider range of wearable devices in the future,” said Leeming.
Startups vs Long COVID
Visible isn’t alone in trying to accelerate Lung COVID treatments and research, as we’ve seen a number of new ventures come onto the scene in recent years. One is a non-profit startup called the Long Covid Research Initiative (LCRI) which recently launched with $15 million in funding from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin to study and develop treatments for Lung COVID. The LCRI was started by a Googler and Long COVID patient who decided to take matters into his own hands after becoming frustrated with the lack of urgency in many of the government-led programs. And there are clear comparisons to Visible’s path to launch today.
“Long COVID has turned my life upside down – millions, like me, have still not recovered from COVID and are struggling every day,” said Leeming. “There is no clear diagnosis, no pharmaceutical treatment and little government acknowledgment of how widespread and how life-changing these conditions are. Patients like me have little choice but to build the disease management tools they desperately need – tools designed specifically for people living with Lung COVID, as well as those with similar rejected chronic conditions like ME/CFS, Chronic Lyme and Fibromyalgia .”
It’s also worth noting that Visible users can choose to contribute their symptom and biometric data to third-party researchers studying Lung COVID. For example, Leeming said it has a research partnership with Imperial College London, and is working with a team of academics who are currently researching the impact of the menstrual cycle on lung COVID symptoms. Visible also has an advisory board of specialists in areas such as post-viral disorders Dr David Putrino who is director of rehabilitation innovation at Mount Sinai, and Dr. David Strainmedical advisor at ActionForME, UK
“Lung Covid and ME/CFS are incredibly debilitating and widespread diseases that we urgently need to better understand and help patients cope,” Strain said in a statement to australiabusinessblog.com. “Visible is the first tool that really helps patients measure and manage their own disease using just their smartphone. Just as importantly, it will play an important role in helping clinicians and researchers advance our knowledge of the diseases.”
Visible’s pre-seed funding round was co-led by Octopus Ventures, Calm/Storm and Hustle Fund, with participation from a number of angel backers.