Our Start-up of the Week is FeelTect, a Galway medtech start-up trying to improve treatment for patients with venous leg ulcers.
Although FeelTect was founded in 2019, the start-up’s journey really began in 2016, when Dr Andrew Cameron, one of the company’s founders, took part in the BioInnovate Ireland programme.
While participating in the programme, Cameron spent time in University Hospital Galway and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, seeking to identify unmet clinical needs in the cardiovascular space.
With the guidance of Dr Georgina Gethin, head of the School of Nursing at NUI Galway, Cameron discovered the need for changes to the application and maintenance of evidence-based pressure during compression therapy of venous leg ulcers (VLUs), to improve healing outcomes and quality of life.
From there, an Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund began in January 2018 in the school of Medicine in NUI Galway, where the BioInnovate programme was held. Cameron and his team went on to develop their product, Tight Alright, which is a pressure-sensing, connected health device for use during VLU compression therapy.
‘Data-driven therapy optimisation could ultimately redefine the standard of care for VLUs by providing tailored treatment plans for patients’
– DR ANDREW CAMERON
In July 2019, the Health Innovation Hub Ireland supported FeelTect in an end-user study in the wound clinic of University Hospital Galway, which demonstrated that Tight Alright could achieve a six-fold improvement in targeted pressure application by experienced nurses.
That same month, FeelTect received an EIT Health Headstart award to contribute towards the further development and clinical validation of the technology. The company began an accelerator programme in Dublin’s NDRC in September to support the path to commercialisation.
The founding team
With an undergraduate degree in chemical and biological engineering and a PhD in tissue engineering, FeelTect CEO Cameron came to Ireland from Australia in 2012 to work as a research fellow in the Tissue Engineering Research Group in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI).
The company’s CTO, Dr Darren Burke, has a PhD in regenerative medicine, as well as extensive experience in quality and R&D engineering roles at well-established medical device companies such as Boston Scientific and Merit Medical.
Meanwhile, the CSO of FeelTect is Prof Garry Duffy, a professor of anatomy at NUI Galway. Duffy has coordinated two collaborative EU projects involving multiple academic and industrial partners across different countries. He is affiliated with both the Cúram and AMBER research institutions in Ireland.
“Venous leg ulcers are painful, odorous and unsightly wounds that affect 1pc of the western population, rising to 3pc to 4pc of the population of people aged 65 years and older,” Cameron told Siliconrepublic.com.
He added that there are 2.2m new cases of VLUs in the US and Europe every single year, with a serviceable addressable market of €923m.
“The average VLU healing time is four months. 20pc don’t heal within a year. These wounds, which are associated with age and obesity, result from a failure of the valves in the veins of the leg (known as venous insufficiency) that causes an accumulation of blood in the lower limbs and a breakdown of subcutaneous tissues.”
It’s estimated that treatment costs for VLUs in the UK are between £597m and £922m per year, while in the US treatment costs can be up to $14.9bn annually.
According to Cameron, the average cost of treating a single VLU is approximately €8,400 under current treatment times. The proven and widely accepted treatment for the condition is compression therapy, where bandages are used to apply pressure to the leg.
“This overcomes the venous insufficiency, restoring venous return and promoting healing. However, if insufficient pressure is applied, compression therapy is ineffective. Excessive application of pressure can impede arterial circulation and cause danger to the patient,” he said.
Therefore, it is extremely important that pressure is applied accurately. Yet, studies have shown that targeted pressure is only achieved about 10pc of the time during compression bandage application. Tight Alright was developed to remove the uncertainty from the treatment of VLUs.
FeelTect’s device uses wearable, connected health technology to measure and monitor sub-bandage pressure during compression therapy, both inside and outside of the clinical setting.
This is quite significant, according to Cameron. “The digital capabilities of Tight Alright potentially enable data-driven therapy optimisation, which could ultimately redefine the standard of care for VLUs by providing tailored treatment plans for patients.”
Unlike existing products, Tight Alright’s accompanying mobile app can incorporate training, educational and motivational material to enhance user engagement with their therapy. The start-up’s team predicts that the product can reduce healing time by five weeks, from an average of 17 weeks when patients are treated by unspecialised nurses.
Market entry plans
While FeelTect’s initial business strategy is to improve the treatment of VLUs with a connected health device, the company’s long-term plan is to form a digital wound care platform that encompasses information on the treatment received by a patient, as well as the state of their wound.
“This will allow for data correlation that can direct optimised, individualised treatment regiments,” Cameron said.
“In this way, Tight Alright also aligns with FeelTect’s ambition to develop strategic partnerships with other wound care companies that could benefit from Tight Alright’s digital capabilities, whilst in turn providing access to their distribution channels. Product development expertise and clinical validation resources.”
Cameron added that he has received “a lot of positive traction and accolades” for the technology, including Most Cost Effective Product at the IMSTA Medtech Awards last week, but plans for market entry aren’t on the cards until the first quarter of 2022.
“We are currently commencing fundraising for a seed investment round,” Cameron said.
“It will cover the costs of design freeze, scalable manufacturing, clinical validation, regulatory approval, IP, operations and personnel for 24 months. We’re also in the process of submitting funding applications to various funding agencies to support our funding requirements.”
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