I don't know about you, but in my family, our dinner conversations tend to revolve around the weather, upcoming elections, the mess at the airport, and the latest episode of Married at First Sight. But the Lev family is a bit different: their family dinner conversations are where startups are born– startups that may change the lives of many women.
5 minutes for an almost-perfect result
In a conversation with Geektime, Nimrod Lev said that a few years ago he met with his sister and her husband for a family meal, during which, his sister, Professor Ahineam Lev Sagie, confessed some of the hardships she faced when working with patients who have been misdiagnosed in the past. "After she finished speaking, she fell silent for a moment, looked at me and her husband Meny, and said “Maybe you can create an automatic tool that can diagnose vaginitis like I do?'" says Lev.
So, they did it and founded the family startup GynTools. It is led by Professor Lev Sagie who acts as the Chief Scientist and is a world-renowned gynecologist; her husband, Meny Lev Sagie, who is the company's CTO and is a veteran software engineer with over 20 years of experience in developing software for medical systems; and his brother, Nimrod Lev, who serves as CEO.
Affecting 75 percent of women
About a third of women's visits to gynecologists are caused by vaginitis, from which about 75% of all women suffer at least once in their lives. To add insult to injury, about half of these cases are misdiagnosed. Lev tells us that after they had their initial discussion about starting this startup, they took two years to study the market, understand the need, and then comprehend the possibilities of actually realizing this idea to promote and execute it.
The startup has developed a system called GYNI which is used for the rapid diagnosis of vaginal infections, which can be caused by seven different factors yet are manifested in similar symptoms. A sample is taken using a swab which is then inserted into the system which analyzes and thereby provides an accurate diagnosis (GynTools claims to have more than 90% successful diagnoses) of the specific cause of inflammation whether it is from one factor or a combination of a few. This is all done within 5 minutes.
"GYNI diagnoses all the main types of inflammation from a single sample that is taken with a fine swab during the gynecological examination or by the patient herself. The system consists of four elements: a small desktop optical scanner, a disposable sampling tool with which a discharge sample is quickly and conveniently collected, an accessible user interface from a personal computer or smartphone, and an algorithm that sits in the cloud which automatically analyzes the information from the scanner and user and immediately sends a diagnosis to the user interface," Nimrod Lev tells us.
According to Lev, the system includes the use of a neural network model that was trained on approximately 12,000 microscopy images collected during a clinical trial conducted over three years. All these images were diagnosed and tagged by a gynecology specialist and cross-referenced with relevant laboratory results. The model they developed sits in the cloud and analyzes dozens of images acquired during each scan of a sample taken from a patient.
In the next step, the diagnoses that emerge from the image analysis are cross-referenced with the symptoms reported by the patient as entered by the system operator, as well as the acidity level found in the sample. "We are automating a diagnostic procedure that was previously carried out by only a few doctors who were trained for it and underwent a specific subspecialty," Lev says about the system they developed: "Thanks to the development, women will receive instructions and prescriptions for accurate and effective treatment on their first visit to the clinic, without the need to wait days for lab results or rely on empiric diagnosis and treatment. The treatment according to the diagnosis proposed by the system will dramatically shorten the time to cure the problem, significantly reduce repeated visits due to misdiagnosis, reduce the ongoing suffering of patients, and minimize costs and wasted time for both patients, doctors, and insurers."
Marketing authorization in Europe
The startup has completed clinical trials in which the system was tested on hundreds of women and is part of several pilots in Israel and Europe. In addition, the system received CE approval for its marketing in the EU and has already signed distribution contracts with European distributors. At the same time, the Israeli startup submitted approval for its product from the medical equipment division of the Ministry of Health and is now preparing for a wider clinical trial to obtain FDA approval for marketing the system in the U.S.
The people who understand the problem put down the money
The two-year-old startup has so far raised a seed round of $2.5 million, most of which came from Israeli gynecologists who know the problem well and understand the need for a solution, along with grants from the Israeli Innovation Authority and the European Union. "After getting to know our end users deeply, we may consider a SaaS model," Lev added. The two-year-old startup operates from offices in Mount Hotzvim in Jerusalem.
The world of venture capital and investments is predominantly male, and concerns often arise that startups in the "FemTech" fields, designed to address problems specific to women, have difficulty raising funds. Have you encountered this problem? Do you fear such a situation will arise in the future?
Lev: "Indeed, medical developments for women do not receive the necessary funding. This is a global problem, and as a participant and regular member of international panels on the subject, this is a problem that comes up again and again in every conversation. We also experience difficulties in fundraising from firms, which, despite the knowledge that this is a huge market – an audience of half the world's population with different health needs than men — they still do not invest funds in such directions."