Biometrics at the center as big tech and medical industry vie for your health data: B-Secur
Leader in electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) monitoring, B-Secur, is scaling up in the U.S. to concentrate on health-related heart biometrics after COVID-19 sharpened its focus away from ECG data for authentication and automotive applications.
As big tech moves more fully into medtech territory, the Northern Irish firm plans to be there to help deliver affordable medical-grade wearables that can share data via the cloud to enable preventative and predictive healthcare.
B-Secur’s CCO, Ben Carter, spoke to Biometric Update at the firm’s Belfast headquarters about cancer detection, COVID-19’s impact on cardiovascular health and upcoming funding rounds.
It is all about unlocking the body’s potential for B-Secur. “We need physiologists to keep understanding more about the body that feeds into our, I guess, all our data strategy, which feeds into our R&D strategy, leads into our validation strategy” to develop new algorithms, says Carter.
The company has 32 such algorithms in progress and 26 patents. The firm sees itself as a data business, medical firm and “sophisticated biosensing algorithm innovation company.”
Its main product, HeartKey, a set of algorithms for identifying and interpreting heartbeats, was unveiled in 2019 and got FDA clearance, partly due to the accuracy of the algorithms. In late 2021 the firm raised $12 million, led by Colorado-based First Capital Ventures. Operations are now scaling up in the U.S. in consumer and medical divisions, as the company gets into position for the unfolding battle for health data, accelerated by COVID-19.
COVID’s two-fold impact
COVID-19 has been a game-changer for B-Secur for two unfortunate reasons. People have become rapidly more used and amenable to telemedicine whether remote monitoring or online doctor appointments due to restrictions around the pandemic. But the disease itself could be damaging to cardiovascular health.
Before COVID “five percent of U.S. citizens were happy to have the consultation with the health care professional online. That’s now around about 85 percent,” says Carter.
“A lot of the long COVID issues are actually in the heart. They’re affecting the heart and developing arrhythmias… 20 percent of people are now developing arrhythmias as a result of COVID.”
It is early days for research into the longer-term health impacts of COVID, though research is beginning to emerge on the virus’s effect on the cardiovascular system.
The COO said that most commonly known form of heart condition, atrial fibrillation, costs the U.S. economy $26 billion a year alone. “So you can see there’s a lot of problems with heart health. But the most stunning statistic on this one for me is that, according to the American Heart Foundation, 80 percent of those 18 million deaths are preventable and preventable through a proactive preventive health care model. So the whole point of our technology getting scaled is that we will catch these things early.”
The sweet spot for when two worlds collide
Medical technology and consumer gadgets have been two separate verticals, but that looks set to change. “Remote patient monitoring has created this what some people call this convergence. Whereas I personally call it a collision,” says Ben Carter, of the scramble for the $13 trillion global healthcare market.
Big tech wants to collect more health data from smartphone users and online shoppers. They will no doubt try to lock them in to walled gardens and make health monitoring easy to understand and use. Companies such as B-Secur will be able to help them harness medical-grade sensors and processing.
B-Secur is strategically sitting itself in the middle of the big tech and medtech collision Venn diagram. The Belfast firm is already licensing and building devices in the consumer space with big customers, household names and working on software for a big “tier-1” wrist-worn wearables company.
Biometric wearables go medical-grade, cloud-processed
In five years’ time a simple $200 watch could give you 35 biomarkers, predicts Carter. B-Secur is working to create those biomarkers alongside ECG to “unlock the huge potential of the body.”
Following the first Apple Watch, launched before it got FDA clearance, to future devices which monitor hydration and bioimpedance to offer early warning systems for diseases such as cancer, Carter predicts consumer wearables that are medical-grade, or within 2-3 percent of medical grade, are only 3-4 years away.
Then the software analytics can run predictive healthcare, even forecasting that the wearer is three months away from a heart attack.
B-Secur develops everything for dry electrodes, such as the back of a smart watch, rather than medical solutions which use 12-lead wet electrodes, those affixed with gels for hospital-administered ECG monitors. Dry electrodes will help the technology go mainstream and sensors and electrodes are “inevitably” going to be integrated into clothing, according to Carter.
Companies that work with B-Secur are getting an FDA-cleared partner.
Back to biometric authentication and further investment
B-Secur was originally faced with a vast range of biometric possibilities for ECG application and pursued encryption, authentication and automotive before the healthcare focus.
“Automotive was a disappointing kind of end, and the reason why it fizzled out was because when COVID hit, it was one of the main vertical sectors that was impacted by COVID in terms of R&D budget,” noted Carter, though this could be due a revision.
Likewise with computer access. There is plenty of scope for ECG-based biometric access and even monitoring worker health through the keyboard. Companies can use the libraries of algorithms available from B-Secur in the meantime.
Following upcoming large announcements at the Heart Rhythm Society conference in San Francisco in April, B-Secur will be holding Series B and C fund-raising as it continues to focus on the U.S. market. After this, then it hopes to revisit more of the potential biometric tech avenues.
Short-term, B-Secur is becoming a Qualcomm ecosystem software vendor for the 5100 Snapdragon platform, as the firm undergoes “rebooting of the whole mobile ecosystem – a huge multi-billion dollar play they’re making,” says Carter.
This post was updated at 9:59am Eastern on March 22, 2022 to clarify that Ben Carter is Chief Commercial Officer of B-Secur.