Aktiia: Health-tech taking the pressure off blood pressure monitoring

8 Mar 2021

Image: Michael Kisch, CEO, Aktiia

Swiss start-up Aktiia is tackling hypertension with a wrist-worn monitor that can capture data over a continuous period.

Aktiia has developed a more elegant solution to monitoring blood pressure,” said CEO Michael Kisch.

Major brands such as Apple, Samsung and Fitbit are working their wearables into the health-tech market, but this Swiss start-up has a 15-year head start with a well-researched and clinically validated bracelet.

Rather than overall health and fitness tracking, however, Aktiia’s focus is homed in on hypertension, or high blood pressure. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.13bn people worldwide have this condition, which significantly increases the risks of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases, and thus is a major cause of premature death around the world.

“One of the biggest challenges is the lack of comprehensive understanding of the drivers of a person’s blood pressure,” said Kisch. “Aktiia’s primary goal is to turn insights into actions in the fight against hypertension.”

To gather as much data as possible, Aktiia’s blood pressure monitoring device has been designed to be worn day and night for continuous tracking that requires no effort from the wearer and doesn’t cause discomfort.

‘Aktiia straddles the line between the European and Silicon Valley digital health start-up communities’

Aktiia is Kisch’s third time as a digital health CEO. He first led Soundhawk, which developed a reimagined hearing aid with mobile and cloud connectivity. After that was Beddr, a sleep health technology company with a forehead-worn sleep monitor. And now, since August 2020, he is CEO of Aktiia.

The origins of the company far predate that, though. Co-founders Dr Mattia Bertschi and Dr Josep Solà – both scientists with PhDs in biomedical signal processing – started working on this technology back in 2004. Years of research performed by the two at the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology not only contributed to Solà’s PhD thesis but laid the foundations for a promising digital health start-up.

In 2018, they officially established Aktiia to commercialise their technology and raised €3.7m in seed funding. Last year, this was bolstered by additional €5.6m in funding, before Kisch joined the Swiss-headquartered company from his base in Silicon Valley.

“Aktiia straddles the line between the European and Silicon Valley digital health start-up communities,” he said. “Both communities are vibrant and flourishing due to the dramatic changes in healthcare delivery caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Each community has specific strengths and expertise that we have been fortunate to be able to take advantage of.”

A bracelet device with optical sensors on the reverse face sits on top of a smartphone showing the Aktiia blood pressure monitoring app.

Image: Aktiia

The technology developed by Bertschi and Solà tackled a complex technical challenge to accurately measure blood pressure via the wrist. Most start-ups, Kisch said, were not equipped to crack this conundrum.

“Prior to Aktiia there were a number of companies that tried and failed due to the extensive research, development and clinical validation required. It’s for this reason that the first 13 years of the company’s existence was spent inside a publicly funded research organisation,” he said.

“Since the company was founded in 2018, we have had to overcome the challenges inherent in developing a solution that includes hardware and regulatory approval,” Kisch continued. “After 15 years we’re proud to have created a product that is consumer-friendly, but also clinically validated.”

Aktiia is a step up from traditional blood pressure cuffs in that it gathers hundreds of measurements per week, which can allow for deep analysis of blood pressure patterns. “These insights can empower people to better manage their cardiovascular health and enable healthcare providers to deliver more timely and personalised care,” said Kisch.

The device uses optical sensors to measure the shape of the pulse wave. The company has also developed a proprietary algorithm and claims the device is capable of measuring blood pressure across a diverse range of users in a variety of body positions.

“The ability to track blood pressure 24/7 provides new insights that will transform the diagnosis and management of hypertension,” said Kisch.

‘The more insights we can provide people and their healthcare providers the better we can help people control their blood pressure’

The years of development have led to a device that bears a CE mark and was classified as a Class IIa medical device in December 2020. This means the company can sell the Aktiia device in 43 countries worldwide.

In January this year, with this regulatory approval, the product was launched in the UK and more countries are set to follow.

“We are now expanding the number of countries where Aktiia is available for purchase and continuing to push forward on our product vision,” said Kisch. “Early customer response has been extremely positive leading to above-forecast sales, very engaged users and significant partner interest.”

The device itself is priced at £199 while the app-connected blood pressure monitoring service runs on a monthly subscription basis.

“We are focused on scaling Aktiia’s technology to as many people as possible in the belief that the more insights we can provide people and their healthcare providers the better we can help people control their blood pressure and reduce the burden of hypertension,” said Kisch.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.