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Pfizer pays Brisbane firm $179m behind smartphone app that claims to diagnose COVID

A Brisbane-based company that has invented a smartphone app it claims can diagnose COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses by listening to someone cough, has been bought by Pfizer for nearly $180 million.

ResApp Health Limited uses diagnostic technology developed by Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne and his research team at the University of Queensland (UQ) to record and analyze a patient’s cough on a smartphone.

The app also takes into account self-reporting of simple symptoms like runny nose or fever to diagnose and measure the severity of a range of lung diseases, including asthma and pneumonia.

Pfizer, which is one of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies, offered to buy ResApp earlier this year when the company announced positive results for its COVID-19 screening test.

Recent studies showed the app had a 92% success rate in diagnosing the virus in symptomatic patients, but further clinical trials were needed for it to gain regulatory approval.

UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said the $179 million acquisition, completed on Monday, was a “remarkable” achievement for the company and associated researchers.

“The value of translating research into new point-of-care diagnostics to improve healthcare globally cannot be underestimated,” said Professor Terry.

UQ’s marketing company, UniQuest, licensed the technology to ResApp in September 2014.

“Super Information Highway”

Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne developed diagnostic technology used in ResApp Health.(Provided)

Dr Abeyratne, from the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, said the research that led to the breakthrough began more than a decade ago with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation .

“When I open my lungs, open the airways, that’s what I call a ‘super information highway’, so I wondered if it was possible to use the sounds of cough, advanced signal processing and AI technology to select features,” he said. .

“From the start, I had a big vision to develop scalable, low-cost technologies to diagnose lung disease anywhere in the world – not just in remote sub-Saharan Africa, but even in developed urban cities like New York and Brisbane. “

Dr Abeyratne said the smartphone technology, which was developed in consultation with doctors, works similarly to a doctor using a stethoscope to listen to sounds produced by a patient’s body.

“Diagnosis comes immediately, in about a minute, telling the patient if they have a particular disease, using just their smartphone – nothing else – and there’s no need for a network connection either,” did he declare.

Dr. Abeyratne said he hopes Pfizer’s acquisition of ResApp will help him realize his dream of helping people around the world.

“I hope they can diagnose deadly diseases like pneumonia in very remote communities in Africa and Asia, because they don’t have access to sophisticated hospitals,” he said.

He said the technology could also benefit GP clinics and hospitals in developed countries by speeding up the screening process and avoiding costly hospitalizations.

“It could be used in telehealth services, so patients don’t have to visit the doctor in person. The doctor can first make a diagnosis using the app on their smartphone.

“In an area affected by a pandemic or disaster, respiratory diseases occur quickly, so the technology could be used at airports or in areas affected by hurricanes and floods.”

Dr Abeyratne said the app could also be used to monitor and manage chronic conditions like asthma at home.

“I think in the future, with more resources, more could be done,” he said.

“There are many other applications…there are other skills, techniques and instruments that can be added [to the diagnostic technology] Low price.”

UniQuest CEO Dean Moss said he’s been watching ResApp’s growth “with care”.

“This is one of the most exciting Australian biotech deals to come out of university research,” said Dr Moss.

“It is gratifying that the company’s technological breakthroughs have attracted such significant international support.”

Pfizer has been contacted for comment.