Whole-Body Scanning’s Star Power

The proactive whole-body scanning segment gained even more celebrity-driven momentum last week with the launch of Neko Health, a Sweden-based startup cofounded by Spotify CEO Daniel Ek.

Neko Health launches with the goal of improving early disease detection, thus allowing physicians to focus on preventive care, and reducing late detection’s social and economic impact.

  • The $190 exams combine a 360-degree body scan, cardiovascular scans, sensors, and blood tests to collect 50M data points (“skin, heart, vessels, respiration, microcirculation and more”) that are analyzed with AI to assess patients’ unique risks. 

Neko Health’s cardiovascular exam includes cardiac ultrasound (among other technologies), but its other scanners are based on “cameras, lasers, and radars,” and aren’t the type of modalities that most of you associate with whole-body scanning (no MRI or CT).

  • That said, Neko’s launch prompted the same type of radiologist backlash that we typically see when new whole-body imaging companies emerge, and Neko’s exams could still lead to the cascade of follow-ups that radiologists are concerned about.

Unfortunately for those concerned radiologists, the general public pays much more attention to the rich and famous than what folks are upset about on RadTwitter, and it seems that elites love proactive whole-body exams… 

  • Spotify’s Daniel Ek co-founded Neko (in case you missed that part)
  • Whole-body MRI startup Prenuvo is backed by some A-list investors (Apple’s Tony Fadell, Google’s Eric Schmidt, supermodel Cindy Crawford)
  • AI-driven proactive MRI company Ezra’s investor list is full of execs and entrepreneurs, rather than the VCs that imaging startups typically rely on
  • Whole-body scans have also been endorsed by some very influential celebrities (Oprah, Kim Kardashian, Chamath Palihapitiya, Paris Hilton, Kevin Rose)

Outside of the excellent celebrity endorsement work that Hologic has done for breast cancer screening, we don’t see that type of star power in traditional areas of medical imaging. 

The Takeaway

Neko Health largely steers clear of radiology’s turf from a modality perspective, but whole-body scanning’s recent influx of funding, innovations, and celebrity-driven awareness seem very relevant to radiology.

Prenuvo’s Longevity Imaging Funding

There are few medical imaging segments with more momentum among the general public than longevity-focused MRI screening, and Silicon Valley startup Prenuvo just raised a $70M Series A round to capitalize on that momentum.

Prenuvo’s imaging centers help longevity-minded individuals detect health problems early, combining full-body MRI exams, AI analysis, and radiologist interpretations to screen for over 500 conditions (catching most solid tumors while still Stage 1). 

  • Prenuvo places a high emphasis on the patient experience, including comfort, entertainment, exam speed, and patient-friendly reporting, all reportedly at a “fraction of the cost of traditional MRI screenings.”
  • Already growing at a 240% annual rate, Prenuvo will use its new funding to expand its AI team, accelerate its technology development, build its custom MRI scanners, and grow its presence from 6 to 16 imaging centers nationwide.

Many radiologists have made it clear that they don’t approve of proactive screening, noting the high risk of overdiagnosis and unnecessary radiation exposure (w/ CT screenings) when patients undergo just-in-case scans. 

However, there are enough stories about proactive exams catching early diseases and enough people who want to live as long as possible to inspire a growing field of longevity imaging startups, including BrainKey (brain longevity), Ezra (cancer screening), Q Bio (overall health), and Human Longevity (overall health).

The Takeaway

Whether radiologists like it or not, there are plenty of people who want to maximize their longevity and there’s apparently plenty of venture funding available to longevity imaging startups ($70M is a huge Series A for an imaging startup in 2022). 

We might still be early in the longevity imaging trend, but if it intensifies it would mean a lot more imaging exams, a growing source of early diagnoses (and incidental findings), and potentially greater longevity for the patients who can afford these services.

Longevity Imaging

The emerging and controversial topic of longevity-focused imaging is back in the news, after AMRA Medical announced that Human Longevity will provide AMRA’s MRI-based Body Composition Profile Scans to its members. 

Human Longevity’s 100+ Precision Longevity Care program is built to help members live a “healthier and longer life” through risk detection and prevention. The program already included a range of exams (whole genome sequencing, blood biomarkers, whole body imaging, bone/muscle strength, nutrition/lifestyle), and now goes even deeper into imaging with AMRA’s MRI body composition analysis.

Just about every radiologist on Twitter rejected the idea of proactive imaging a few months ago when they came across a tweet from Human Longevity co-founder Dr. Peter Diamandis endorsing annual CTs and MRIs. As you might expect, the radiologists took issue with the exams’ radiation exposure and overdiagnosis risks, and had a laugh about annual CTs’ impact on patient genomes.

However, proactive longevity imaging services might be emerging faster than many of us realize, helped by a growing field of startups and major healthcare-wide trends towards consumerization and personalization…

  • BrainKey combines brain MRI and genetics analysis to help individuals understand their current brain health and the factors influencing their future brain longevity.
  • Ezra provides concerned/curious patients with full-body MRI cancer screenings, followed by easy-to-understand reports and physician consultations.
  • Q Bio analyzes full-body MRIs and other data (medical records, blood, saliva, vitals, urine) to create a patient physiological “digital twin” that’s used to proactively assess and manage patient health.

Human Longevity might end up leading this trend, as it’s further along in its R&D and commercialization processes, and it just announced plans to go public via a $1B SPAC deal. 

The Takeaway

Even if you’re not ready to embrace longevity imaging or don’t find SPAC listings as impressive as several years ago (or several months ago), it’s pretty clear that imaging will play a central role within proactive healthcare assessments and management. That could mean a lot more imaging exams and interpretations, a new source of incidental findings, and potentially greater longevity among patients who can afford these services.

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