The algorithm helping find an underdiagnosed heart condition
It can creep up and strike suddenly.
No, we’re not describing a predator hunting a gazelle in a nature documentary. This is how many patients experience the onset of heart disease.
Many heart conditions—from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)—are so fatal and terrifying because they seem to appear out of nowhere.
Of course, medtech has something to say about that.
When it comes to HCM, a buzzy medical AI startup, Viz.ai, is making waves. Last month, the company received FDA clearance for an algorithm now being used by pharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) to identify more cases of HCM.
This alliance between medtech and Big Pharma is poised to make sneaky heart disease a little less unpredictable. Join us in uncovering how the tech works—and what this move signals for the rest of our industry.
How does Viz.ai’s algorithm find HCM?
HCM is a tricky disease. A patient’s heart muscle gets thicker to the point that severe symptoms can occur.
The condition is genetic and often takes years to diagnose. That is if patients do get screened before suffering sudden, unexpected cardiac death. Many patients are asymptomatic.
“It is, as we say, hiding in plain sight,” said Matthew Martinez, a member of Viz.ai’s medical advisory board who also directs the sports cardiology program at Atlantic Health System in New Jersey. “It is sometimes referred to as the great masquerader, because symptoms overlap with common symptoms.”
Viz HCM uncovers likely HCM cases using 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) tests, which are inexpensive and widely used already. The system flags patients for additional review in the integrated care coordination system, which a cardiologist then addresses.
The company said that its algorithm was trained on ECGs which included around 5,000 HCG patients and patients with conditions that can be easily confused for HCM (i.e., hypertension).
Viz.ai’s platform is currently used by about 1,400 hospitals across the US and Europe. With HCM estimated to affect 1 in 500 people, the hope is that some patients at these facilities will get diagnoses they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. It also aids with the management of these patients, who may otherwise get lost in the follow-up shuffle.
“The whole purpose behind the system [is] you’re matching the right patient to the right specialist so you don’t get the increased utilization of health care if you don’t need it,” said Viz.ai CEO Chris Mansi. “But the patients who do need to be followed up and potentially treated get that treatment much faster.”
Medtech and Big Pharma: A match made in heaven?
This is a collaboration between medtech and Big Pharma that’ll likely save lives while also helping sell more of BMS’ HCM drug, Camzyos, which was approved by the FDA last year.
Prior to this approval, the standard of treatment for most eligible, diagnosed patients was to take beta blockers and monitor until symptoms worsened. At that point, patients would often undergo open-heart surgery or go the implantable defibrillator route.
BMS struck the multi-year deal in which they provide funding and scientific input into the development of Viz HCM. The gamble was that Camzyos would gain more consumers—not by more people falling ill, but by finding more undiagnosed patients
“Why? Because they’re so philanthropic?” said Martinez. “No, they want to sell more drugs. They want to help more people by identifying more people.”
BMS’ deal with Viz.ai is not its first corporate collaboration on the HCM front. The company actually came to hold Camzyos by acquiring biotech MyoKardia in 2020.
These are shrewd financial moves for the pharma company and an example of a trend of how healthcare giants are modernizing in our current economic climate. While big pharma companies have the leg-up on large-scale trials and therapeutic portfolios, they don’t quite have the technical expertise of many more nimble startups, especially on the medical AI front.
That's where medtechs like Viz.ai stand to benefit. Many companies—which may otherwise be looking down the barrel of a still quite competitive venture climate—continue to turn to acquisitions and corporate partnerships to keep going. We’ll be interested to see further collaborations like this one as the dual trends toward corporate integration and B2B plays continue in our industry.