Nuvo, a maker of remote fetal monitors, prepares for Wall Street debut

Addressing ‘maternity care deserts,’ Israeli startup seeks to raise $30 million on stock exchange through SPAC merger

Across the U.S., doctors and healthcare companies are trying to address the spread of “maternity care deserts,” large swaths of the country suffering from a shortage of obstetricians and nursing staff.

Two years ago, health technology giant Philips teamed up with a small Israeli startup called Nuvo Group to judge whether its remote fetal monitoring platform could help. The pilot program conducted with women in rural parts of Colorado whose pregnancies were termed high-risk ultimately persuaded Philips to strike a distribution agreement with Nuvo.

The ability of Nuvo’s device to provide accurate information, assisted by artificial intelligence, is also propelling the company to its debut in the next two months on the Nasdaq stock market. Going public in a SPAC merger – the Wall Street maneuver that enables companies to sell shares through a shell entity already registered on an exchange – Nuvo hopes to raise at least $30 million, CEO Rice Powell told The Circuit.

Investors “want to see if the Philips relationship is really working,” said Powell, 68, former chairman and CEO of Fresenius Medical Care, one of the world’s largest makers of kidney dialysis machines. “It’s incumbent on us to work with physicians and get [the device] in front of them.”

Nuvo is in the final stages of merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) created by Los Angeles Media Ventures, an investment company co-founded by entrepreneur Jeffrey Soros whose uncle is billionaire George Soros. Earlier efforts to mount an initial public offering were dropped two years ago because of global economic conditions that dried up the IPO market, Powell said.

Care for high-risk pregnancies in the U.S. costs an estimated $58 billion a year, according to the medical journal JAMA. The country is short at least 9,000 obstetricians – rising to a forecast 22,000 by 2050.

Nuvo’s INVU monitoring device is the only product that has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for both self-administered remote tracking of maternal and fetal heart rates as well as for remote non-stress tests. The exam assesses the well-being of a fetus by measuring whether its movements in the womb affect its heart rate.

Patients strap the INVU sensors on their abdomen with a band that generates data and transfers it to a mobile phone app. The digitized results are then sent for analysis to the patient’s doctor.

Many patients with high-risk pregnancies are seen at the hospital or clinic multiple times a week for monitoring by a Doppler ultrasound device, which provides the clearest view of the fetus’s condition. Medical authorities have discouraged use of home Doppler devices because the procedure generates a slight level of heat that may be harmful to fetal tissue if used too frequently. INVU’s development of a passive technology for monitoring uterine activity enabled it to get a green light from the FDA.

“Where this is really groundbreaking is moving it from the hospital or clinic where they’re doing the non-stress tests and the mom is there in person, to moving it remotely,” said Kelly Londy, Nuvo’s former CEO who now serves on the company’s strategic advisory board. The challenge is “proving… the same degree of accuracy.”

Londy, a former executive at Philips, cultivated the relationship with the Netherlands-based healthcare company while she led Nuvo for nearly three years until Powell replaced her last month. Plans call for selling the INVU system first in the U.S., Europe and Israel. Pursuing markets in Asia, the Gulf and Africa would come later, Powell said.

Nuvo’s competitors include Sense4Baby, Pregnabit and Heramed.

More than 60% of pregnancies in the U.S. are termed high-risk because of factors that include diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and drug use. Pregnant patients under 17 and over 35 are also often classified as high-risk.

Getting the $19 billion Dutch company on board was key to clinching the deal with Soros and LAMF, “which ascribed value to the Philips [agreement] with respect to it serving as validation of Nuvo’s technology,” according to the 374-page prospectus filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Soros’s firm, Los Angeles Media Ventures, which produces films, plays and entertainment programming – including the 2022 Hulu TV docuseries “Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers” – also invests in technology.

Use of telemedicine has been growing for years, from monitoring blood pressure and respiratory function to meeting with a psychiatrist. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there was a 63-fold increase in the use of Medicare visits through telehealth from 2019 to 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nuvo device was found to be especially useful late last year at Sheba Hospital near Tel Aviv when safety concerns over rocket fire from Gaza prompted a precautionary reduction in available beds during the war with Hamas. Doctors sent many expectant patients home for monitoring through INVU.

“Instead of just telling women to go home without following up with them, the ability to sustain the standard of care at home was amazing,” said Dr. Avi Tsur, an obstetrician and director of the Women’s Health Innovation Center at Sheba. “What we wanted to do, even before the war, was to allow them on the one hand, to receive treatment. But on the other hand, to continue their careers and continue their family life.”

While the FDA approvals for the heart monitoring and non-stress test applications paved the way for Nuvo’s partnerships with Philips and LAMF, the device can collect massive amounts of data and tailor it to doctors’ needs. This is what makes the technology most attractive to investors, Rice said. Among the conditions that can be assessed with the equipment if regulatory approval is obtained are hypertension, diabetes and maternal mood disorder, with the prospect of reducing the chances of preterm birth and unnecessary C-sections.

Tsur said the potential for getting better medical insight from the data through AI-based predictive analytics is an important reason Sheba chose to use the INVU technology.

“We see it as part of our vision for the future of health,” he said.

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