Neopenda NeoGuard Wearable Vital Signs Monitor for COVID-19: Interview with Sona Shah and Assumpta Nantume


Neopenda, a medical device startup based in Chicago that has been featured on Medgadget previously, has recently adapted its wearable vital signs monitor, originally developed for newborns, to be used with pediatric and adult patients in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To date, the neoGuard has been utilized as a monitoring solution for newborn infants in hospitals in Uganda. The wearable wirelessly streams vital signs, such as respiration rate, to a phone or tablet computer, allowing healthcare staff to monitor newborns on the move or remotely.

The technology has been useful in helping to reduce infant mortality in low-resource regions, where a lack of staff and clinical resources can make it difficult to monitor newborns for potentially life-threatening complications.

Now, Neopenda is modifying the Neoguard device so that it can measure vital signs in adults and children, with potential to help with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company predicts that the device will help COVID-19 patients, as it could aid medical staff to respond more quickly to medical emergencies and may even help in identifying suspected cases who are being monitored.

Currently, Neopenda is running a crowdfunding campaign to help raise more money to expand the neoGuard solution to communities in need.

Medgadget had the opportunity to talk to Sona Shah, Neopenda CEO and Co-Founder, and Assumpta Nantume, Neopenda Research Director, Uganda, about the technology and recent developments in light of the pandemic.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the Neopenda vital signs monitor and how it works.

Sona Shah, Neopenda: neoGuard is a continuous vital signs monitor that measures pulse rate, respiration rate, oxygen saturation, and temperature through a simple headband. The vitals from multiple patients are wirelessly transmitted over bluetooth low energy to a centralized dashboard on a tablet. Our system helps overburdened healthcare workers better manage their patients, and improves speed of action for patients in distress. With just one tablet, nurses and clinicians can simultaneously observe up to 20 patients at a time and receive real-time audio and visual alerts if any of their vital signs exceed preset upper or lower limits. By detecting early warning scores for patients in distress, the neoGuard technology will help trigger more timely and effective clinical interventions and subsequently lower patient morbidity and mortality.

Medgadget: What are the advantages of the technology? How and where has it been used to date?

Assumpta Nantume, Neopenda: neoGuard was designed specifically for resource constrained environments, and as such is a more cost-effective, durable, and easy-to-use system than alternative vital signs monitors. The product has been developed with feedback from more than 400 health workers to ensure that it is appropriate for dynamic clinical settings and users. Neopenda has received a lot of interest and support from government, non-profit and private partners who share our vision for improved quality of care for critically ill patients.

To date, we have conducted several clinical trials both in Uganda and in the US to assess the feasibility, safety and accuracy of the technology. In May 2020, we launched use of neoGuard for remote monitoring of COVID-19 patients in Hawaii through our partnership with Queens Hospital. Between June–July 2020, we will be launching use of neoGuard in COVID-19 treatment facilities in Uganda and neonatal care units in Kenya.

Medgadget: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your plans for the monitor?

Sona Shah: We had intended to go-to-market with our neonatal vital signs monitor in mid-2020, starting in Uganda. As we witnessed the entire world becoming constrained in resources during the COVID pandemic, we quickly adapted our solution for use in adult and pediatric patients, and expanded the number of use cases and geographic reach for our product. Instead of cutting back on resources to extend the runway, we have doubled down to get neoGuard to market quicker and help during this pandemic.

While the pivot from our initial strategy has had its challenges, several of our implementing partners have supported our efforts and continued to work with us to equip COVID-19 treatment facilities for an effective response.

Medgadget: Please give us an overview of how the monitor could assist medical staff during the pandemic.

Sona Shah: In light of COVID-19, there has been a growing demand for vital sign monitoring equipment globally. neoGuard is unique in its ability to measure four vital signs as opposed to just one or two vital signs like most equipment.

Vital signs monitoring is crucial to help identify suspected cases for further testing, triage COVID-positive patients, and guide therapy. Since neoGuard has been designed for low-resource environments, we can readily adapt our solution to additional use cases, including isolation facilities, pop-up clinics and remote patient monitoring by community health workers and public health officials. We are currently piloting our remote patient monitoring use case with a hospital in Hawaii, and have engaged Ministries of Health and NGOs to deploy neoGuard as part of their COVID response.

The neoGuard system is also equipped with data capture tools to help synthesize both individual- and facility-level reports that are useful for predictive analytics, as well as planning and budgeting purposes. A technology like this is particularly valuable when handling a new disease like COVID-19 where the capacity to quickly acquire and study clinical insights as they are generated is incredibly important to curbing infections and deaths.

Medgadget: Has the pandemic created any challenges in scaling up production of the adult vital signs monitor?

Assumpta Nantume: Our contract manufacturer (CM) is based in Malaysia, which experienced a shutdown as a result of the pandemic. Our CM was able to receive a permit for limited operations during the shutdown, which allowed us to complete a pilot build. These units are currently being piloted at various facilities to demonstrate the applicability of neoGuard in the COVID response as we ramp up to mass production in the coming months. In parallel, we established a backup supply chain to quickly ramp-up production as needed to help fill the demand we are seeing for our product.

Medgadget: How have the monitors been used during the pandemic to date, and when do you envisage that you will be able to distribute more?

Assumpta Nantume: The monitors are currently being used in pilots to demonstrate the relevance of neoGuard during the COVID-19 pandemic both for remote patient monitoring and in resource-constrained facilities domestically and in emerging markets. We continue to engage new partners and facilities as we scale our solution and go through the appropriate regulatory pathways. We expect to have the ability to distribute at scale in Q3 2020.

Link: Neopenda homepage…

Flashback: Wearable Vital Signs Monitor for Newborns: Interview with Neopenda Co-founders Sona Shah and Teresa Cauvel

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