As we speak is the day we begin a firm, Oshiorenoya Agabi stated to himself, as King Sunny Ades Koniku stuffed the airwaves.
Agabi has been creating a know-how that takes information from human scent to detect disease in human our bodies for seventeen years. On this random work day at Imperial School London whereas doing PhD analysis, he’d be impressed by the legendary Nigerian musician to outline his objective.
Koniku means immortal in Yoruba, considered one of three predominant languages in Nigeria. Based in 2017, the firm is predicated in California the place Agabi runs a staff of engineers and scientists constructing a now-and-future biotech pioneer.
No, the firm will not be creating an immortality machine. However Konikus plan to conjure science and know-how to protect human life is in full swing. If life might be preserved by early disease detection, if distant outbreaks might be prevented from turning into pandemics, Agabi hopes Koniku turns into the worlds final life saver.
A respiratory machine that may scent
The brand new age we’re stepping into is the age of biotech. It would change what it means to be human, he says.
Its a February night at a cocktail organised by Platform Capital, an funding advisory and enterprise capital agency in Lagos. Platform invests in tech corporations by way of its unit referred to as Uniform Group.
Agabi is an imposing presence on stage, energizing an viewers of enterprise individuals, teachers and politicians with the story of Konikus founding; how Nigeria should make investments massively in healthcare; why Africa can’t be left behind in utilizing rising applied sciences to radically advance human prospects.
Konikore, his companys flagship machine, incorporates a chip that merges dwelling genetically modified mind cells and conventional silicon. The know-how works on the foundation that silicon alone is inadequate for processing and decoding information from human scent.
This chance, Agabi says, is based on revealed literature; by detecting about 4 Risky Natural Compounds (VOCs), you would make an informed 80%-correct guess on the presence of influenza in a human’s physique after taking their breath.
However the key perception that makes Konikore smart is that this: whereas there are branches of synthetic intelligence that interpret pictures (pc imaginative and prescient) and sound (pure language processing) for predictive analytics, the course of for decoding scent will not be easy.
Konikus imaginative and prescient with Konikore is, due to this fact, to increase silicon with cells from mice to produce the capability wanted for machines to breathe and scent. The enter information for this course of is Risky Natural Compounds that the physique provides off when we’ve sure ailments.
When the machine detects a given set of those compounds in a human, it’s in a position to – aided by a complicated interaction of algorithms – inform what disease that individual is current.
An Web-of-Issues play
Konikore can be in a position to detect a vary of current ailments, from lung most cancers to COVID-19, Agabi says. However what would make it excellent is to a capability to detect ailments which might be but to be found. How will this occur?
Once more, the companys working thesis is that each disease has key natural substances that function its biomarkers. When a disease has been damaged down to the most necessary VOCs that establish it, Koniku can be programmed to learn, detect and diagnose.
Related to how Android telephones are up to date when new working methods are launched, Konikores will obtain new disease data through an Web of Issues facility.
The gadgets diagnostic capability will profit from having a number of gadgets related from a number of sufferers at totally different areas. This manner, information from totally different sufferers might be in contrast and the collated data will enhance efficiency throughout board.
When you’ve a giant database from a lot of sufferers, you’ve the likelihood to anonymously verify affected person information towards affected person information to arrive at the right analysis, Agabi says.
The pool, he hopes, may include information from up to 10,000 sufferers. Each Konikore person can have an opt-in system to select or decline to share their information with anybody, forestalling any privateness violations.
Koniku for well being and different purposes
Agabis invention can be utilized in numerous fields from agriculture and healthcare, to navy and airport safety.
He says the Koniku Kore is ready to detect explosive materials like TATP in 2 elements per billion simply by exposing the machine to air. (TATP, triacetone triperoxide, was an energetic ingredient in the Paris bombing of 2015)
Validation for Agabi has come from a navy outfit that wrote Koniku its first verify of $10 million, although he insists he presents his companies for protection not offense. Different early Koniku purchasers embody Exxon Mobil, Procter & Gamble, and BASF – a international chemical substances producer.
As well as to the above, Konikus know-how has been used at the Singapore Changi Airport, Agabi says. In the current local weather of COVID-19 nervousness, such methods may make a distinction for a way an infectious disease spreads inside a nation and past.
Koniku has raised over $6 million in enterprise financing, receiving the backing of VCs in Silicon Valley. Over $17.5 million have been acquired in income from contracts, with a projection to accrue $200 million in 4 years, Agabi says.
Patronage from FMCG corporations and airport safety are encouraging indicators. However Agabi is especially keen to scale adoption in healthcare. He’s optimistic about viability in locations like Nigeria the place entry to well being companies are at a premium the place accessible.
World Well being Organisation information exhibits that over 30% of WHO Member States have lower than 10 medical medical doctors per 10 000 inhabitants. The chunk is extra intense in Africa: whereas the continent bears greater than 22% of the international disease burden, Africans have entry to solely 3% of well being staff and fewer than 1% of the worlds monetary assets.
If it really works as anticipated, Konikore will democratize healthcare entry in a comparable method to how cell phones liberalized entry to communication. However Agabi doesn’t anticipate human-mediated scientific medication to turn into out of date as a consequence.
This machine can be a first-stage screening that offers a excessive diploma of certainty. We’ll work hand-in-hand with current methods and medical doctors. The aim right here will not be to substitute diagnostic methods however relatively to complement them. We see a house for everyone to work collectively to ship extra worth for the buyer.
He wants to have the machine in each house. The perfect is that your Konikore turns into an after-bath companion with which you do a first-stage well being verify.
A tool with these options sounds costly. However Agabi says his firm is concentrating on the international center class: For those who can afford a cell phone, you’ll be able to afford our machine.
His presentation at a Digital Life Design convention in October 2019 put the value of 1 Konikore at $60.
A excessive moral commonplace
Whereas VOC detection is an rising business with excessive progress potential, the fusion of biology with know-how at all times attracts skepticism. In the meals world, there may be ongoing backlash towards genetically-modified organisms. Genetically modifying animal cells for healthcare will increase eyebrows too.
[Read: Rwanda must pick a side in its GMO debate]
At a press briefing earlier than the Platform cocktail, I requested Agabi if there are moral issues that we must always put together for with regards to Konikore; the place he will get his cells from and the way he hopes to persuade Nigerias authorities on beneficence.
Apparently, Koniku sources its cells from a manufacturing facility in Silicon Valley the place they’re in a position to develop the cells en masse.
Koniku doesnt but have the approval of the US Meals and Drug Administration to deploy Konikore, however Agabi is prepared to have interaction Nigerian stakeholders to uphold requirements when time comes.
One other reporter asks if scientific trials have been carried out to certify Konikore to be used. Agabis response is that whereas there have been no trials immediately with Konikore, there are documented research on breath diagnostics.
In a single specific trial, 17 ailments have been recognized by way of a course of comparable to what Konikore will observe.
What the trials established is that compounds from breath are helpful, dependable biomarkers for calling ailments.
Agabi is assured in his scientific rebuttals to fears that folks could have about Konikores usefulness. On a scale of Elizabeth Therano Holmes to Steve Apple Jobs, he absolutely wants Koniku to have a tendency to and surpass, the latter.
It could be a huge achievement. Agabi grew up in Lawanson, an underdeveloped space in rural Lagos, happening to earn a Bachelors in Physics from the College of Lagos. Over the final 20 years, he has moved from Nigeria to Switzerland, London and Silicon Valley, incomes excessive accolades in science from superior levels to patents.
Constructing Konikore is the most difficult factor I’ve carried out in my life, he says to the cocktail viewers, together with his attentive mother and father immediately below his gaze. Time will inform whether or not this problem may spur a revolution in fast disease detection in the world.