Glucose-sensing contact lens developer Medella Health gets $1.4M

By Jonah Comstock
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Medella Health, the company whose founding team includes a Thiel Fellow and is racing Google and Novartis to develop a glucose-sensing contact lens, has raised $1.4 million in funding. Backers include 1517 Fund, Fifty Years Fund, Garage Capital, BDC Capital and others. 

Not too much is known yet about Medella's lens. The company says it will integrate a small sensor, a chip, and a micro-antenna and it will transmit glucose readings to a mobile device, enabling the user to track their glucose in near-realtime. Their biggest claimed innovation is a sensor that will last up to a month, which cofounder and CEO Harry Gandhi says gives them an edge over Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences), which is developing a similar technology for Novartis.

"As for the work Verily and team is doing, they are ahead on the micro-electronics technology and we are ahead on the sensing technology," Gandhi told MobiHealthNews in an email. "Our sensors are able to last for 30 days (as opposed to a couple of days), extending the lifetime of the contact lens significantly, and thus making calibration much much simpler for the user and bringing the cost down for glucose monitoring."

Gandhi says the company will use the seed funding to scale its technology and to seek out partners for other aspects of manufacturing and marketing the product, including micro-fabrication companies, contact lens manufacturers and healthcare providers.

“We have an exciting year ahead of us,” he said in a statement. “We’ve brought together some of the smartest people to work on a problem that is deep-rooted within our healthcare system. There’s never been a better time to do this – our healthcare system is ripe for disruption, where the industry leaders and key opinion leaders are advocating to shift from a reactive model of care to a preventative model of care.”

Theoretically, a contact lens can detect someone's blood glucose levels based on their tears. But when MobiHealthNews interviewed several industry experts in 2014 -- after Google announced its project -- they all expressed various levels of skepticism that reliable glucose monitoring via a contact lens could be done.

But now the question seems to be not "Can it be done?" but "Who will do it first?" Even with Peter Thiel's vote of confidence, Medella seems like something of an underdog. The company has been working on this for three years, and Gandhi is still confident in their efforts.

"We’re extremely proud of how we’ve brought the team together and all the work we’ve done since we first started in early 2013," he said in a statement. "The months ahead are going to be an extremely exciting time for us, as we will be perfecting the technology we’ve built and working with the regulatory bodies to get approval.”