Know Labs, a Seattle startup aiming to measure glucose levels through the skin using radio waves, added more cash to its balance sheet as it listed Friday on the NYSE American Exchange.
The company, originally founded in 1998, was already a public entity, trading on the OTCQB, an “over-the-counter” market known for penny stocks.
Know Labs said Thursday it expected to raise $7.2 million as part of the new public offering, selling shares at $2 each. Its stock, KNW, was down more than 10% in Friday morning trading.
Know Labs founder and chairman Ron Erickson told Startup that cash infusion will help the company boost its overall profile while getting exposure to additional funding and institutional investors.
Know Labs aims to measure glucose levels through the skin using its UBand wristband or KnowU device, which can be gripped in the palm.
In a regulatory filing, Know Lab said its early human data suggest a “high degree of correlation” between its approach and industry-leading devices.
The 15-employee company is comparing its readouts to measurements from a fingerstick device and glucose monitors commonly used by people with diabetes, including products made by DexCom and Abbott.
Such monitors use a catheter that needs to be inserted under the skin every two weeks or so. They also suffer from other drawbacks such as a lag time in glucose measurements, said Irl Hirsch, a physician and professor at University of Washington Medicine Diabetes Institute.
Fully noninvasive glucose monitors are “one of the holy grails” of diabetes management, said Hirsch.
For its first years of operation, Know Labs focused on light-based authentication and diagnostic technology. Then called Visualant, the company changed its name and focused on glucose monitoring in 2018. It also brought on a new CEO, Phil Bosua, whose previous roles include vice president of consumer products at lighting technology startup Soraa, and CEO and founder of smart lightbulb company LIFX.
Bosua is the principal inventor of Know Labs’ “Bio-RFID” technology, used to detect glucose. In a video, Bosua outlined the company’s glucose detection tech, which involves a radio wave transmitter and a receiver in each device.
“When frequencies interact with molecules, they absorb some reflect some and vibrate,” said Bosua. “This is happening in our bodies all the time. And every molecule has a unique frequency fingerprint.”
The company’s AI-powered software helps make sense of the data, emerging with an estimate of glucose concentration in the blood.
And while using radio waves or other forms of electromagnetic energy to try to measure glucose may sound magical, it’s something researchers have been attempting for decades. “It is certainly possible,” said Yang Hao, dean for research at the faculty of science and engineering, Queen Mary University of London. In one publication, he called the field “extremely challenging.”
Other companies exploring non-invasive approaches include Apple, which has partnered with Rockley Photonics, a company developing a wearable sensor to detect various biomarkers using infrared technology.
“There is so much skepticism that any of these will work,” said Hirsch, the UW professor, of the various approaches to noninvasive glucose monitoring.
Hirsch is a paid medical advisor to Israeli startup Hagar, which, similar to Know Labs, uses radio waves to detect glucose levels. Hirsch said he was not familiar enough with Know Labs’ technology to comment on it. But very early data from Hagar suggest that that company’s approach is “highly accurate,” he said.
Companies entering the area will face a gamut from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hagar, for instance, will need to provide data from people of different skin colors, and under different conditions like heat and cold.
“The most important thing, from my point of view, is that in the future this is all going to be non-invasive, whether it’s these two companies or a half a dozen others,” said Hirsch.
The approach ultimately may have the potential to be used to detect multiple types of molecules in the body, an area Know Labs also may pursue.
“Analytes or biomarkers such as glucose have unique frequencies at which they excite,” said Erickson, previously CEO of Egghead Software, a software retailer that filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and sold its domain to Amazon. “Our Bio-RFID technology can emit radio waves at a wide range of frequencies, identify the presence of the analytes that excite at a specific frequency and measure them quantity non-invasively.”
Know Labs pulled in $4.3 million during the six-month period ended March 31 through a subsidiary, AI Mind, which sells NFTs. Another subsidiary, Particle, performs R&D on warm-light light bulbs designed to inactivate bacteria and viruses.
According to its regulatory filings, Know Labs reported net loss of $11.4 million for the six-month period ended March 31. The company said it has enough runway, prior to its uplisting, to fund operations through June 2023.