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Optum Ventures backs startup that uses AI to aid in medical diagnosis

September 26, 2018

A venture fund at Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group is part of a $33 million fundraising round for an Iowa startup thats developing an autonomous diagnosistic system featuring artificial intelligence (AI).

Called IDx, the company this year received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to market the first medical device using AI to detect greater than a mild level of the eye disease diabetic retinopathy in adults with diabetes.

The startup on Wednesday announced fundraising thats intended to accelerate market adoption of the technology and development of related products. It includes money from Optum Ventures, which UnitedHealth Group launched last year.

We expect this investment to accelerate the adoption of IDx-DR, a unique and much-needed solution for the 30 million people with diabetes in the U.S. alone who need to be tested for diabetic retinopathy each year, said Stefan Abrams, vice chairman at IDx, in a news release.

Optum is the UnitedHealth Group division for health care services including information technology, direct patient care and pharmaceutical benefits management. Last year, the company launched Optum Ventures, a series of domestic and international funds meant to invest in digital care, consumer care and health analytics with artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning.

Company officials said in April that Optum Ventures has $600 million to invest. Last year, UnitedHealth listed among the venture funds first four investments a startup called Mindstrong Health, which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze a patients smartphone interactions. The goal is to help diagnose and treat neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, UnitedHealth Group said in a news release.

The financing announced Wednesday was led by venture capital firm 8VC, where founding partner Drew Oetting said in a statement that IDx leveraged expertise at University of Iowa Health Care to develop a clinically-inspired AI not a black box.

Sarah London, senior principal at Optum Ventures, said in the news release: The health care industry needs to accelerate its adoption of AI to reduce costs and drive efficiencies. We are confident that IDx will transform health care by increasing patient access to early disease detection.

Christopher Snowbeck 612-673-4744

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck

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