Shwetak Patel has struck again.
The University of Washington computer scientist has sold his newest Seattle startup company, Senosis Health, to Google, according to sources familiar with the deal.
It marks the latest acquisition for Patel, whose past startup ventures have landed in the hands of companies such as Belkin International and Sears.
Patel, who founded Senosis Health with four other clinicians, researchers and tech transfer experts from the University of Washington, won a MacArthur genius grant in 2011 and his past innovations have ranged from energy meters to air quality sensors.
With Senosis, Patel and his team of about a dozen engineers and physicians took on a bigger challenge: Turning smartphones into monitoring devices that collect health metrics to diagnose pulmonary function, hemoglobin counts and other critical health information.
The company’s apps – including SpiroSmart and SpiroCall, HemaApp and OsteoApp – were under review by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year when GeekWire first wrote about the novel concept. At the time, Patel seemed especially bullish on the idea of using the enhanced cameras, accelerometers and microphones of modern-day smartphones as a new type of health care diagnostic tool.
“Those sensors that are already on the mobile phone can be repurposed in interesting new ways, where you can actually use those for diagnosing certain kinds of diseases,” Patel said.
Patel declined to comment when contacted by GeekWire on Sunday afternoon, and representatives for Google were not immediately available for comment.
However, Patel was a recent guest on the GeekWire Health Tech Podcast where he spoke at length about Senosis and why he started the company.
Patel told us that he’s “always been interested in solving grand challenges” of which health care is certainly one.
Now, Patel will just be putting his creative energy to work solving the grand health care challenge for Google. Listen to the full episode with Patel here:
The acquisition of Senosis does represent Google’s continued interest in the digital health arena. In 2015, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, launched a new subsidiary known as Verily which was designed to bring together technology, data science and healthcare in a way that would allow people to “enjoy longer and healthier lives.”
Interestingly, Verily’s CTO, Brian Otis, also has ties to the University of Washington where he previously worked as an associate professor in the department of electrical engineering. While at the UW, Otis founded a chip design research lab that developed tiny, low power wireless chips, according to his LinkedIn profile. Alphabet’s artificial intelligence unit, DeepMind, also established a health unit last year with the goal of saving lives and improving health care.
Patel and his colleagues at Senosis are not joining the Verily team, and it’s unclear where they will fit in the greater Alphabet family, the parent company of Google. One source told GeekWire that the Senosis team will remain at Google, forming the backbone of a digital health effort based in Seattle.
It’s also unclear how much was paid for Senosis, which was in the process of raising a series A financing round from leading venture capital firms when the acquisition offer materialized.
Seattle area entrepreneur T.A. McCann was put in place to help raise the venture capital round, and serve as the CEO of Senosis. However, the acquisition talks heated up, and as a result the venture funding was put on the backburner.
Senosis never raised venture capital, and instead was bankrolled in its early months through more than $1 million from the Small Business Innovation Research program.
The other founders of Senosis included Dr. Jim Stout, a professor of pediatrics and an adjunct professor of health services at the University of Washington; Dr. Margaret Rosenfeld, an attending physician at Seattle Childrens Hospital and Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine; Dr. Jim Taylor of the University of Washington, and Mike Clarke, the former associate director in UW’s technology transfer office.
You can get a better idea of the concept behind Senosis in this video.