Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has paid nearly $120 million to buy a small Australian company that claims it has developed a smart program that can accurately diagnose COVID-19 by analyzing coughs.
A small Australian digital health company, ResApp, has been working for a decade to develop an algorithm that can diagnose respiratory diseases simply by examining the sound of a patient’s cough. The system was initially trained to diagnose pneumonia, but by 2019, researchers had shown that the technology could effectively differentiate between asthma, croup, and bronchitis.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the team moved surprisingly quickly to incorporate COVID-19 diagnostics into their cough detection technology. In early 2022, the first data from a pilot experiment testing the COVID algorithm showed impressively good results.
The test found that the system was able to accurately identify 92% of positive COVID cases based on the sound of a cough alone. The system also recorded an 80% specificity, meaning that only two out of ten people tested received false positives.
Shortly after ResApp disclosed those results, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer began to circulate, initially offering about $65 million for the technology. Now, with the official acquisition announcement, Pfizer is acquiring ResApp for a whopping $116 million.
A Pfizer spokesperson said in a statement that the initial data was encouraging and that the deal expands the company’s footprint in digital health.
Pharma giant Pfizer stepped in immediately after ResApp announced these findings, offering about $65 million for the technology.
A deal is now in place for Pfizer to acquire ResApp for a staggering $116 million, according to the official purchase announcement.
A Pfizer representative said in a statement that initial results were encouraging and that the deal will increase the company’s presence in the digital health space.
The ResApp team hopes that the Pfizer acquisition will allow the technology to be developed and widely used outside the world.
Udantha Abeyratne, one of the original creators of the algorithm, stated that the project was intended to help develop better diagnostic tools that could be used in local communities around the world.
A spokesperson told ABC News that “we believe the COVID-19 screening tool is the next step in potentially providing new solutions to consumers looking to contain the disease,” a spokesperson told ABC News.
“We look forward to improving this algorithm and working with regulatory agencies around the world to bring this important product to consumers as quickly as possible.”
The ResAp team hopes that the Pfizer acquisition will help the technology grow and spread to far-flung parts of the world. Udantha Abeyratne, one of the algorithm’s original developers, said the project aimed to help bring better diagnostic tools to communities around the world.
“From the beginning, I had a big vision to develop scalable and low-cost technologies to diagnose lung diseases around the world—not only in remote sub-Saharan Africa, but even in developed cities like New York and Brisbane,” said Abeyratne. “I hope they can diagnose deadly diseases like pneumonia in very remote places in Africa and Asia because they don’t have access to advanced hospitals.”