By Rachael Lyon
Do you ever have those moments where you‘re suddenly reminded that ‘Wow there are some really clever young people out in the world‘? Well for me, the MedTech SuperConnector Showcase 2023 highlighting the 6th cohort of ventures was one of those moments. What is the MedTech SuperConnector? MedTech Superconnector is a collaboration of 8 academic institutions (including Imperial College and The Francis Crick Institute) with a shared vision to support early career researchers in the development and translation of their early stage medtech innovations. These innovations include devices, diagnostics and digital healthcare solutions. Participants are provided with funding, training, mentorship and access to industry partners to help accelerate the translation of their discoveries. This event in March was to showcase their 6th cohort of participants and allow them to pitch their ideas to a wide-ranging audience. The event breakdown The event began with a short welcome by James Grove, Seed Investment Manager at Imperial College London, Enterprise Division. He marvelled at the pace of innovation in the medtech sector which is unlike any other industry at the moment, and reiterated that the MedTech Superconnector is all about delivery and transformation. He introduced the event and congratulated all the participants who would be presenting their 3 minute pitches. Then we got stuck into the pitches which I‘ve summarised below: Go Assistive Technology - Dr Clement Favier pointed out that the current market for lower limb prosthetics are either affordable but lack basic functionality, or work extremely well but are too expensive. Therefore him and his team are developing and manufacturing prosthetics that are both affordable and functional specifically for resource-constrained and environmentally challenging settings. They utilise a mobile application for support and have already developed a transfemoral prototype. Echo Band - Kourosh Sam Kamali pointed out that strokes and the impact they have on society costs the government £3 Billion per year. Electrical stimulation (e-stim) devices that are used for paralysed or partially paralysed muscles are often very bulky and therefore are difficult to use for activities of daily living. Echo Band is a compact wearable device that records signals in paralysed muscles allowing patients to move their arms and legs via e-stim. Kourosh and his team are wanting to take the next steps to create a prototype. Smrtflo - Dr Pasha Normahani described that the current tools used for testing blood circulation are old and are not particularly accurate. However his software-as-a-service solution transforms these old devices into powerful tools, redefining these diagnostics with high performance signal processing and machine learning technology to greatly improve accuracy. Plus all you need is your phone and you are good to go. ConformiTi - Hana Fox talked about how many spinal implants, which are surgically inserted for problematic back pain, fail over time. This can lead to further surgery and potentially further complications. Her solution uses additive manufactured technology to develop spinal implants that can be shaped by surgeons to specifically fit each patient‘s spine. This allows for better load distribution and enhanced bone growth for superior outcomes. Liquibio - Dr Elijah Mojares posed the question that if 70% or arable land is used for feeding animals that humans will eventually consume, how are we supposed to feed the whole world? Cultivated meat is a growing industry however it is very expensive and the end product is often a paste to mix with other ingredients. Liquibio is building a biomanufacturing platform that is able to create edible scaffolding which means the end product will have structure and not just be a paste. It will also be significantly cheaper and faster than conventional microcarriers. Dotplot - Shefali Bohra explained that early detection of breast cancer has a 93% survival rate. However the current method for assessment is mainly reliant on self checks which many women are not confident with. Dotplot aims to be the first at-home breast health monitoring tool that guides and assists women to conduct self checks and records breast tissue density to make it easier to compare between each assessment. We then had a short break from the pitches with a keynote address from Vreni Shoenenberger, Global Franchise Head, External Affairs and Partnership Strategy, Novartis. She discussed how often the various areas of health innovation, that is pharma, medical devices, digital solutions, biotech etc see themselves as solving separate issues. However that can be limiting as instead, we should view health innovation as a ecosystem, all specialities intricately working together to improve health as a whole. Vreni also emphasised to all the innovators in the room the importance of involving the people and communities we are trying to impact in the solution forming process. Otherwise if we don‘t, we may create solutions that are completely irrelevant or unusable by the people we are trying to help. After the insightful keynote address we were able to hear the remaining 6 pitches. NEX. Q - Ashleigh Myall outlined the prevalence of hospital acquired infections, and that its management is completed by infection control teams which can be quite a manual process. NEX. Q speeds up this process by developing software that helps clinical teams to prevent, control, and predict disease transmission. They have already published a peer reviewed paper on their technology. OncoAssign - Dr Ashwin Nandakumar explained the difficulty of matching cancer patients with the right kind of treatment. Traditionally, biomarker tests are completed however they can be around 50% accurate in determining the best suited treatment. OncoAssign are developing complementary diagnostics in the form of a PCR to help determine the most suitable treatments with accuracy of up to 80-90%. This means patients will receive the right treatment sooner, and eliminate unnecessary toxic therapies. MakeSense - Robert Quinn discussed that the current wayfinding tools for visually-impaired people are either very expensive (i.e. guide dogs) or not particularly helpful. Now he wasn‘t able to say much about the product unless you were willing to sign an NDA, however it uses 3D mapping and other technologies to create an effective and promising non-visual wayfinding tool. He also showed letters from industry leaders and even competitors backing the product, praising it for the impact it would have on the visually-impaired community. aiKNIT - Sophie Richter explained that for optimal healing for musculoskeletal disorders you require adaptive support, gradient immobilisation, and sensory stimuli. The common braces for this e.g. wrist brace for RSI are bulky, uncomfortable and impact other functions. Their product instead uses cutting-edge material technology that is 3D printed for the patient which adapts to the human body to support healing and function. It also looks a knitted glove which is far more aesthetic than a brace. Imaging Driven Multifunctional Bioplotter - Dr Sudeep Joshi noted that transplant waiting lists can be extensive, and therefore manufacturing organs is essential. He pointed out that to do this successfully, the technology needs to build the organ and constantly monitor the product. Currently, the technology can only do one or the other. Their product however, will do both by combining 3D bioprinting, imaging and microfabrication to create these complex biological systems. The HIVQuant Project - Dr Catherine Kibirige painted the picture of someone in remote Africa being tested for HIV, and due to environmental and resource barriers, only receiving their results up to 12 months later. This is extremely problematic and there needs to be a faster alternative. The HIVQuant project is commercialising an ambient temperature HIV RNA/DNA quantification kit that works on solar or battery driven cyclers allowing patients to receive results within 2 hours in resource-constrained settings. A final pitch was supposed to take place on a point-of-care tuberculosis diagnostics tool however they were unable to attend. Reflections Firstly, it was clear that all the participants were incredibly talented and extremely dedicated to the programme and their innovations. I found it intriguing how wide ranging, in terms of the development stages, all the participants and innovations were. There were some that had already completed research papers on their solution or created a prototype. Whereas some were more researched concepts and seeking funding to create their ideas. From talking with other attendees this was different to previous cohorts and speaks to the expansion of the programme. Secondly, I had an overwhelming feeling walking out after the pitches, that only 4 of the 13 participants in the cohort were female. The cohort was diverse in other ways, particularly in terms of cultural backgrounds which was refreshing, however in terms of gender it was nowhere near 50:50. Now quotas can be contentious, however I feel that with startups where female entrepreneurs received 2.3% of venture capital funding in 2020, and women of colour, specifically Black women 0.35%, it might be necessary. I think that accelerator programmes should try and give women the greatest chance of success by allowing as many as possible the opportunity to develop, expand and ultimately pitch their ideas to investors. Lastly, whilst the participants presenting may have been predominantly male, the teams behind each innovation were generally more diverse. This was exciting to see as I firmly believe that diversity in teams, bring diversity of perspectives, experiences and thought, allowing for creativity and new ideas, leading to innovation. This is confounded because in the healthcare industry, those that often have the greatest health needs are those with diverse backgrounds and need solutions that bear that in mind. Disappointingly, one pitch did have a team of only young white men which shows that whilst a lot of progress for championing diversity has been made, we still have have work to do - but it‘s worth it.