Going to the doctor is not always a preferred activity, and part of that is the testing involved, including, of course, the ubiquitous urine test. This remains a standard method used to determine the proper course of treatment for patients and to prevent exposure to potentially harmful medications and procedures. Point-of-care urine tests are used to diagnose a range of conditions, including pregnancy, urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney disorders and liver issues. They are also required for all women of childbearing age as they enter the emergency department.
The test has two key flaws that can reduce its efficacy. First, it’s time-consuming, requiring at least an hour for the manual process of collecting the urine sample, transporting the sample, processing and testing the specimen, analyzing it and recording the results. In addition, it’s error-prone, due to patient missteps in collecting midstream samples and misplaced samples by clinical staff.
Voyant, the newest company to join the Fogarty Institute’s incubator program, is poised to change this by automating the urinary diagnostics process with its innovative smart toilet platform. This new method promises to drastically change the industry by reducing the collection and testing time to just five minutes.
Addressing a potential $13B market
Voyant’s technology is an add-on device that can be retrofitted over a commercial toilet in a clinical setting. The process is simple: Clinical staff order the required tests, which are linked to the patients’ ID; in the restroom, the patient scans his or her wrist band on the device and urinates into the device-enabled toilet; then the device collects, processes and analyzes the urine per the ordered tests and sends the results directly to the electronic medical record system.
The company’s first product will target pregnancy testing, general urinalysis testing and midstream urine collection. Voyant plans to expand its platform into other uses, including drug testing in settings such as rehabilitation clinics and workplaces; monitoring the progression of chronic disease and impact of treatment at home; providing better senior care; and optimizing treatment plans via machine learning.
Voyant’s device will be self-cleaning, will perform a full day of tests without clinical staff intervention and will be fully compliant with Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments policies.
The device promises to restore $2 million in annual revenue in emergency departments by allowing them to see more of the approximately 1,700 patients who leave without being seen. It is also estimated to increase reimbursement by $1 million by reducing contaminated midstream urine specimens ten-fold. In addition, it will be designed to free up the equivalent of one full-time person from urine testing activities to focus on what’s most important—patient care.
How the company came about
Voyant’s founder and CEO Michael Tu came up with the idea for the startup when he was part of a team at Northwestern University that was developing a litter box to analyze kidney disease in cats. “I wanted to do something that helped improve human health, so I took the idea and explored ways to apply the same concept for clinical urinary testing,” said Michael.
He worked on the smart toilet device during evenings and weekends, learning more about the clinical need and challenges faced by physicians and emergency room departments. Once he confirmed the potential, he formed the company. Voyant has since completed a clinical trial with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, demonstrating a 98% accuracy rate without any cross-contamination, and has raised institutional and angel funding, which has allowed Michael to build a team and focus on the company full-time.
Joining the Fogarty Institute
Michael and his team were very impressed by the experience of the Fogarty Institute’s leadership team and humbled to be accepted by the organization. “We felt that we were culturally aligned with the FII team and were so impressed by how down-to-earth this accomplished group of people is,” said Michael.
“Being at the Fogarty Institute will bolster our work in establishing our clinical partnerships, and our location in the Bay Area will be beneficial as we seek funding, since it’s currently the most active region in our space,” he says, adding that they are also looking forward to collaborating with other companies-in-residence and learning the ins and outs of the startup world from fellow entrepreneurs.