NEWS: Personal Experience Catalyzed the Launch of a Heart Monitoring Device Company. Coala Life Plans to Forego a Series B Round and Go Public Next Year Instead…
Ten years ago, Philip Siberg was rushed to the ER with a rapid heartbeat and chest pains. It turned out to be the result of overwork, stress and caffeine from running a previous venture.
But Siberg wondered why tech had not yet disrupted the go-to device for monitoring heart arrhythmias, known as a Holter monitor.
And, he wanted diagnostic data about his own heart at his fingertips, 24/7.
So, as Siberg moved back to Sweden from the U.S., in his role as the CEO of a public med-device company, he took over an independent research project and founded Coala Life in 2015.
The researchers had just made a breakthrough following 10 years of developing sensors for more accurate cardiac monitoring.
Nine months ago, he moved back to the U.S. again with his family — this time to Laguna Beach — and established Coala Life’s national HQ in Irvine.
The goal was to launch the “Coala,” a diagnostic monitoring system as an alternative to the Holter monitor and an ECG patches, but with real-time data and the ability to remotely analyze heart and lung sounds as well.
(A Holter monitor is a type of portable, electrocardiography device, for cardiac monitoring typically worn for 24 to 48 hours and then given back to a cardiologist to review. ECG patches contains an electrocardiography sensorto monitor heart rate, among other things.)
But he remembered the natural beauty of OC from living in Corona del Mar as a child. And he felt like Boston was too biotech heavy, whereas OC has more of a concentration of medtech.
And, how did he come up with the name Coala?
Because koalas possess a unique, second set of vocal cords. The extra ones are outside of their voice boxes. This placement allows them to belt out very low tones, which they use for mating.
Siberg saw some synergy between koalas having unique anatomy and acoustics and the device he launched, which had the ability to amplify the low tones of the human heartbeat by a factor or 100.
He received FDA approval for the Coala device early last year.
How It Works
With a prescription from a doctor, anyone can get a Coala monitor.
One of the more common uses would be to monitor, and perhaps detect SVT, an acronym for supra ventricular tachycardia. SVT is a faster than normal heart rate beginning above the heart’s two lower chambers.
The Coala device is essentially a miniature version of an EKG machine, so it’s much more sophisticated than what an Apple Watch can do – which is monitor a user’s current heart rate, resting rate and walking average rate.
In contrast, the Coala analyzes the activity of the heart’s natural pacemaker.
It is used by simply holding the device to the chest for 30 seconds, followed by a second “lead” that monitors the thumbs for 30 seconds.
Published research has proven that this two-lead electrocardiograph increases accuracy threefold versus an EKG, according to the company.
If the Coala device’s algorithms detect an episode, alerts will be sent straight to a doctor. Otherwise, it just monitors and records the data in real-time, with data presented instantly to both patient and physician.
Siberg said that practically all insurance companies cover the device and the accompanying service. Physicians would pay $69 per patient and the patient copay, if at all, is only about $15, Siberg said.
Effect of the Pandemic
Based on the coronavirus pandemic, Coala Life recently updated its software with new algorithms. So, the device can now detect nine of the most common heart arrhythmias, as well as monitor lung sounds from a patient’s home.
Medtech in Electrical Cardiology Slow to Catch Up?
Siberg asserts that Yes, “the cardiology market has been slow to move to digital.”
He believes that it’s a very conservative industry, and he claims that the previous tools were are not always in the best interest of patients, physicians and insurance companies.
“Most other solutions are burdensome and expensive for the patient, they don’t provide fair reimbursement for the physician, and they’re costly for the U.S. healthcare system,” Siberg told OCSN.
Siberg emphasized that with Coala’s device, the patient can keep it as long as they need to receive an initial diagnosis.
(Holter monitors and ECG patches have limitations in time and use).
Siberg said that many patients that are prescribed a Coala for diagnosis may have some initial trepidation.
But the the device is also used to monitor patients for two to three months after a surgical procedure, or as part of telemedicine programs.
Competition includes large, global corporations like GE Healthcare, as well as BioTelemetry and iRhythm – all provide variations of cardiac monitoring tools.
Siberg used to work in the VC industry in Sweden. But from that experience, he said he took away the belief that the typical shareholder agreement often more heavily favors the VC firm than the startup.
So, when he launched Coala Life, he decided that everyone who invested – no matter if they were an early investor, or later on – would get the same type of shares as he did as the founder, known as common stock.
So, he initially asked family, friends and his extended network. That yielded a total of $22 million in seed and Series A round funding.
But instead of looking to open a Series B round as a next financing step, the company plans to do an IPO next year, Siberg has told his investors, who number about 100, including a lot of doctors and wealthy families.
Siberg said he has a bold vision to make Coala’s cardiology tools equally accessible for all. To make that happen, Siberg said he intends to continue to be a strong advocate of fair-deal ventures with all stakeholders, striving for the same goals.