Where research and entrepreneurship converge, magical medical innovation can happen.
Because of their nature, it’s no surprise for medtech start-ups to spring from research. Ireland’s universities and research centres are producing capable entrepreneurs while also supporting the development of research-based start-ups and spin-outs.
In some cases, researchers themselves take on the job of leading these companies, while others are simply embedded in university campuses in order to tap into an innovation ecosystem.
Enterprise Ireland has even managed to catalyse this alchemy with the BioInnovate Ireland Fellowship. This innovation programme coaxes the creation of medtech ventures by putting engineers, doctors and business people together in hospitals to observe and conjure up ideas addressing clinical needs.
The results of this concerted effort by business and academia are the medical marvels in healthcare and biotechnology that position Ireland as a leader in medtech and biotech.
SurgaColl Technologies is based in Dublin, developing regenerative technologies. It is working on novel tissue regeneration products for the surgical treatment of diseases affecting bone, cartilage and other human tissue. SurgaColl has two products: HydroxyColl, which is a next-generation bone graft substitute, and ChondroColl, a bio-mimetic three-layer cartilage repair implant.
Spinning out of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 2010, SurgaColl is one of Ireland’s high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland. Its headquarters are in the Dublin City University (DCU) Invent Centre.
Beyonce never looked better – nice to see our technology can make a difference to quality of life and performance https://t.co/NBMiXWWJXl
— Surgacoll (@Surgacoll) May 27, 2016
Last year, SurgaColl Technologies revealed plans to build a 25-strong workforce before the end of the decade, seeking significant funding to do so.
Founded in 2014 by Eoin Bambury and Moshe Zilversmit, Signum Surgical is a medtech start-up striving to develop technology that could cure perianal fistula. Bambury and Zilversmit, who met on the BioInnovate Ireland programme at NUI Galway, recognised a lack of innovation surrounding the treatment of perianal fistulas (small tunnels that develop between the end of the bowel and the skin near the anus). The device developed by Signum Surgical is implanted post-surgery to prevent reinfection and to allow a faster healing process.
In November 2016, Signum Surgical closed out a €2.6m Series A funding round. This funding will be used to further develop the technology, and to submit it to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to seek regulatory approval.
The Halo Business Angel Network MedTech Syndicate provided €1m of that funding and will be further supporting Signum Surgical’s founders with mentoring.
Ostoform is a medical device to manage peristomal skin complications for people with ileostomies. A stoma is an opening created surgically on the abdomen for the elimination of either bowel or bladder waste. There is a high risk of skin complications developing in the area around a stoma.
— InterTradeIreland (@Inter_Trade) November 10, 2016
Developed by Kevin Kelleher and Rhona Hunt, the University of Limerick spin-out won the One to Watch Award for an outstanding pitch at Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas innovation showcase last year. Ostoform also won an award at the Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition, resulting in €10,000 in funding from InterTradeIreland.
The device has a pre-existing reimbursement code in the US and Ostoform plans to commercialise by mid-2017 with the aim of entering foreign markets and growing its business.
Micro Needle Slow-Mo
Micro Needle Slow-Mo is a medtech start-up created by Ellen Cahill, a PhD student in the University College Dublin (UCD) Medical Device Design Group. The technology does exactly what it says on the tin, delivering a slow, sustained release of therapeutic drugs.
Cahill is working on the technology with Dr Eoin O’Cearbhaill and Dr Shane Keaveney. The team won the overall prize in the 2016 UCD MedTech Innovation Sprint Programme and was presented with a €500 professional service prize fund to assist with further development.
Thanks to all at NOVA and the UCD Medical Device Design Group for all the help and encouragement thus far https://t.co/a1FORab75d
— Ellen Cahill (@Ellencal) December 14, 2016
The research has also been supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Naughton Foundation and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship.
Phision Therapeutics is a life sciences start-up that aims to prevent blindness associated with ageing or diabetes. Founded by UCD’s Dr Breandán Kennedy, and spun out from research undertaken by Kennedy and Dr Alison Reynolds, Phision Therapeutics’ focus is on halting the advancement of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Existing treatments for AMD require up to 12 eye injections per year. These injections come with an attendant risk of infection and retinal detachment and, for many sufferers, are completely ineffective. Phision Therapeutics is working to develop new drugs that would curb the growth of leaky blood vessels in the eye – one of the leading causes of AMD – while reducing the need for these injections.
The start-up – which receives funding from Enterprise Ireland, SFI and the Irish Research Council, among others – won UCD’s 2015 Start-up Award and the 2015 UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme.
Founded by Dr Nora Khaldi in 2013 as a spin-out of NovaUCD’s VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme, Nuritas is one of the country’s fastest growing start-ups. Combining life sciences and AI, Nuritas develops advanced algorithms that mine DNA and protein data from plant material.
Following Khaldi’s appearance at Inspirefest last year, the company made headlines when it announced upcoming growth for 2017 with U2’s Bono and The Edge coming aboard as investors in the company. In the months prior to this, the biotech start-up raised a total of €5m in funding from investors including Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff.
Now, Nuritas has granted permission for German chemical giant BASF to commercialise one of its existing peptides across a number of applications, particularly in healthcare.
Founded in 2013 and based in the DCU Invent Centre, GlycoSeLect caters to the biopharma industry, specialising in the development and production of recombinant prokaryotic lectins (RPLs).
For the biopharma industry, these RPLs make glycoprotein analysis and manufacturing cheaper and more effective, ultimately helping to reduce the cost of biopharmaceuticals and other life-science industry products. To that end, GlycoSeLect has developed a series of glycan-selective RPLs that have demonstrated their applicability for the purification and manufacturing of biotherapeutics.
In August 2016, GlycoSeLect CEO Robert Dunne announced an investment deal with KBI Biopharma, a leading biopharmaceutical contract services company, to licence its RPL technology.
Previous Inspirefest speaker Prof Louise Kenny has won international attention for her work at the INFANT Centre in Cork University Maternity Hospital. Kenny’s research focuses on the prediction of pre-eclampsia, one of the most common, but deadly, potential risks to pregnant women.
Medtech start-up Metabolomic Diagnostics, led by Charles Garvey, is the commercial arm of this research. The company’s product is PrePsia, a blood test capable of detecting the risk of pre-eclampsia prior to birth.
Successfully raising an eye-catching €15m last September in a Series A fund led by medtech giants Fountain Healthcare Partners and Novartis Venture Fund, Inflazome is a Dublin-based start-up tackling chronic inflammatory diseases. The company is the brainchild of Prof Matt Cooper, of University of Queensland in Australia, and Prof Luke O’Neill of Trinity College Dublin (TCD). The name comes from inflammasome activation, which occurs in many diseases such as Parkinson’s and asthma.
Operating out of TCD’s enterprise centre, Inflazome aims to improve on what it calls inadequate therapies aimed at sufferers of debilitating diseases. O’Neill’s expertise in the field of immunology saw him recently become a fellow of the Royal Society, which has 80 Nobel laureates currently on the books.
Another TCD spin-out, SelfSense Technologies is an NDRC-based company creating dental devices that diagnose and monitor tooth grinding (bruxism). Called a SmartSplint, SelfSense’s device has a sensor in a dental splint, tracking movements and delivering information directly to a dentist.
The company originated in TCD’s AMBER research centre, with more than €700,000 in grant funding secured from Enterprise Ireland, SFI and the Health Research Board.
SelfSense recently presented its SmartSplint at the Greater New York Academy of Prosthodontics 62nd Scientific Meeting. Meanwhile, the SmartSplint is expected for release in the UK early this year. It is currently being trialled in the Dublin Dental Hospital and in private practice in Ireland.
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Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic