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ApneaDX: First we take Ontario, then we take the world

December 18, 2012

As 2012 winds down, ApneaDx Inc. is gearing up to make a splash in 2013.

This startup—which was spun off from University Health Network (UHN) research and technology with early-stage investment and business development support from MaRS Innovation—has created the ApneaDx device to address the market need for a clinical-quality sleep apnea monitoring system that can be easily used by patients at home.

Sleep apnea, a medical disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing during sleep, affects over half a billion people worldwide.

And most of them don’t even know it.

“When you look at people with sleep apnea, 85% are undiagnosed,” says Andrew Sinclair, CEO of ApneaDx. “Each breathing pause of over 10 seconds during sleep is defined as an apnea. When the number of apneas exceeds five to 15 an hour, treatment is required. In severe cases, the number can exceed 100 per hour, which is more than one a minute. You wake up fatigued. It’s hard to concentrate. I can say from experience it’s a miserable way to live.”

More seriously, untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure and stroke, among other complications, over time. But accessing a sleep laboratory—the current gold standard in diagnosis—is expensive ($1,500 in the United States) and space is limited.

Existing at-home sleep apnea treatment methods require expensive equipment that must be configured by technicians. Patients can become entangled in equipment wires and data quality is poor, which has led to modest market penetration.

The ApneaDx team hopes to change that.

ApneaDx device

Invented by Douglas Bradley, Geoff Fernie and Hisham Alshear at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI), now a part of UHN, the ApneaDx device provides sleep lab-quality data with minimal inconvenience by avoiding wires, bulky equipment and a cumbersome setup.

Preliminary studies with 150 patients directly comparing the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) values obtained using standard sleep lab equipment and AHI values obtained using ApneaDx demonstrate a high correlation between the ApneaDx device’s data and data collected through a sleep lab.

Better still, the ApneaDx device will cost a fraction of the price of a sleep lab visit or other home monitoring systems.

“We’re currently carrying out an independent market assessment to accelerate an Ontario government listing for ApneaDx,” says Andrew. “We’ll be looking to scale to a global rollout of our clinically validated prototype in 2014, pending FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] approval.”

The company’s intellectual property (IP) is protected through five families of patents. MaRS Innovation worked with the team to develop a solid IP strategy and to move the product through early-stage development and proof-of-concept work. Andrew, a MaRS Innovation staff member, was then embedded in the new company as CEO.

The company raised $500,000 in 2012 and has secured $200,000 of additional seed funding from MaRS Innovation for 2013.

“We’re planning to hire staff in the new year,” says Andrew. “TRI also has an active research program in this area and we anticipate a pipeline of developments to augment ApneaDx and related products.”

One such project is finding ways to capture and measure other sleep parameters related to sleep apnea beyond AHI while maintaining the device’s existing non-contact, one data channel design.

“While it’s a bit of a cliché, in this case it’s true that ApneaDx is positioned to revolutionize apnea (AHI) testing and, hence, patient outcomes,” says Andrew.

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Elizabeth Monier-Williams

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Elizabeth Monier-Williams manages marketing and communications for MaRS Innovation and its growing portfolio of research-driven spin-off companies.

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