Butterfly Health Network has raised $250 million in new funds and will soon begin shipping its sub-$2,000, handheld, tablet-connected full-body ultrasound device, Butterfly IQ. Fidelity led the investment, with additional participation from Fosun Pharma, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jamie Dinan, along with existing investors. The round brings the company’s total funding to $350 million.
The device is now available for order and the company will soon begin shipping it to thousands of pre-order customers. Notably, those customers are hospitals and other providers; the device is not being sold or marketed for consumer use.
Why it matters
While portable, often smartphone-connected ultrasound devices have been coming out for a number of years, Butterfly’s device is something new.
As we reported when the company secured FDA clearance last fall, Butterfly IQ uses an easy-to-manufacture semiconductor chip rather than the piezoelectric crystals used by traditional ultrasounds, which allows it to sell for close to $2,000. Existing portable devices like Philips Lumify, Mobisante’s MobiUS, and Clarius Mobile Health’s devices all cost in the neighborhood of $7,000. Traditional ultrasound machines can cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
"The key differentiator [from previous devices] is in how the chip technology works and how it enables one probe to produce linear, curved, and phased ultrasonic waves," a spokesperson told MobiHealthNews in an email. "The chip, made from an array of thousands of programmable micro-machined sensors (like a grid of very small drums) is capable of emulating all three ultrasonic wave patterns with a single probe, all on one handheld device. Through this fundamentally new invention, Butterfly is able to drastically lower the cost of its device by leveraging the same manufacturing processes as consumer products, allowing for high-precision, high-quality ultrasound to be produced at scale."
Ultrasound is a versatile scanning technology that can be used in many areas of health, so the benefits of increasingly smaller, more affordable versions are manyfold.
“Even in the developed world, price and lack of expertise are barriers that prevent access to ultrasound, with approximately 4.7 billion people unable to obtain medical imaging,” Butterfly Network President Gioel Molinari wrote in a Medium post. “In hospitals worldwide, we can impact the cost of care as we move towards value-based models. In developing countries, ultrasound can be used as a diagnostically superior and safer method than X-ray to diagnose critical global health issues like pediatric pneumonia. Our integrated software platform is paving the way for early detection and remote diagnosis of health issues around the world.”
What’s the trend
Portable ultrasounds of various kinds, many of them smartphone or tablet-connected, have been introduced into the mobile health world for the past decade, going at least as far back as GE’s V-Scan in 2010. That device set off a bit of a fervor in the early days of digital health when Dr. Eric Topol suggested that consumers would be performing their own ultrasounds in a few years.
In 2011, the FDA gave 510(k) clearance to Mobisante, a startup cofounded by former Microsoft executive Dr. Sailesh Chutani, for a smartphone-connected device, albeit one that worked on only one smartphone. The Teratech Corporation Terason uSmart 3200T, a WiFi and Bluetooth-connected ultrasound, was cleared in 2013. Philips’ Lumify device was cleared in 2015, and Vancouver, BC-based Clarius Mobile Health’s app-based, wireless, handheld ultrasound scanners were cleared in 2016.
None of those startups (excluding big companies GE and Philips) has received funding on a level anywhere near $350 million.
On the record
“We are pleased to announce that we have raised $250 million from a syndicate of some of the most well-known and respected investors in the world,” Molinari wrote. “This capital will enable us to build our world-class team, and continue to develop disruptive technologies. More importantly, we are humbled to work with partners including Fidelity (our lead investor), Fosun Pharma, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jamie Dinan, along with our existing investors, who understand the importance of democratizing our life saving ultrasound-on-chip technology to help those that need it most. With their support, we can maximize the societal impact of ultrasound, changing the trajectory of healthcare around the globe.”