20 health and medtech start-ups with their finger on the pulse

31 Jan 20204.02k Views

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With a strong showing from Ireland, we’ve compiled a list of 20 top European start-ups tackling health issues.

With so much research in life sciences creating viable commercial opportunities, new health, medtech and biotech start-ups are exploding on the scene.

In Ireland, Galway in particular has emerged as a hotbed of start-up activity in these sectors, and we’ve spotted even more start-ups to watch in this space across Europe in 2020 and beyond.

Atrian Medical

NUI Galway spin-out Atrian Medical arose from a licensing agreement with the Mayo Clinic followed by four years’ development of a treatment for atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart rate that can increase the risk of other complications.

Atrian’s technology selectively targets clusters of cells responsible for AFib with short pulses of electrical energy delivered without damaging the heart muscle.

A row of five men in business attire stand behind a woman and man who are seated on a low bench in front of them.

Back from left: Barry O’Brien, Atrian Medical; Jonathon Kavanagh, WDC; Ken Coffey, Atrian Medical; Alan Hobbs, Enterprise Ireland; Declan Quinn, Xenium Capital. Front: John Reilly, Atrian Medical; and Eimear Gleeseon, Atlantic Bridge. Image: Aengus McMahon

The company has received support from Enterprise Ireland’s commercialisation fund and the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund. In October 2019, it raised €2.3m in a seed round led by Western Development Commission and Mayo Clinic Ventures.

Branca Bunús

Late last year, researchers at University College Dublin (UCD) announced a breakthrough in the search for a cure for epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a painful genetic skin condition.

A man in a lab holds up a conical flask containing a pink liquid. He points at the liquid, showing an EB tattoo on his hand. Two women stand next to him showing their matching hand tattoos also.

From left: Dr Jonathan O’Keeffe, Dr Sinead Hickey and Dr Irene Lara-Saez. Image: PA Media

The team behind this breakthrough – including Prof Wenxin Wang, Dr Irene Lara-Sáez, Dr Qian Xu, Dr Jonathan O’Keeffe Ahern, Dr Sigen A, Dr Hongyun Tai and Dr Dezhong Zhou – formed Branca Bunús with the aim of helping the estimated half a million people worldwide with EB. This very early spin-out then went on to participate in the UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme, along with our next start-up.

Biosimulytics

Biosimulytics came out of the UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator with the 2019 programme’s top start-up award and a €32,000 prize.

Founded in 2018, the team behind this start-up includes Prof Niall English, Dr Christian Burnham, Dr Pralok Samanta and commercial lead Peter Doyle.

Two men standing on a stairway are smiling. One is holding an award.

From left: Prof Niall English and Peter Doyle. Image: UCD

The company is developing a software solution that combines molecular chemistry, quantum physics, artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing. All this is in aid of quickly and efficiently predicting the most stable crystal structure for a given molecule, which could find applications in structure-based drug design (SBDD).

Tracworx

Another Irish health-tech start-up to watch is Tracworx, founded in 2016 by University of Limerick students Chris Kelly (CEO), Fionn Barron (COO) and Eoin O’Brien (CTO). This early-stage company took home the top prize of €100,000 at the 2019 Seedcorn competition.

Tracworx aims to help improve patient flow and efficiency in hospitals. The system uses a hospital’s existing Wi-Fi network and small wrist-worn devices to automate real-time data collection and generate reports. It has already been adopted in two Irish hospitals and the company signed up its first UK customer late last year.

Eolas Medical

Early-stage Belfast start-up Eolas Medical was founded by Dr Declan Kelly and Dr Rob Brisk. With technology developed by clinicians for clinicians, it aims to support acute medical care decision-making. For Brisk – who also happens to be a deep learning engineer and researcher – this can be enabled using AI.

In December, the company secured a spot in the Propel 2020 pre-accelerator, receiving a £15,000 grant and the support of seasoned entrepreneurs from a vast range of businesses.

Equimetrics

NDRC-backed Equimetrics is focused on equine health. This Kilkenny start-up, founded by CEO Annemarie O’Brien, is addressing the many health conditions that can affect horses – chief among them, colic.

As with any medical condition, early detection of colic can be vital and uncharacteristic behaviour can raise a warning sign. Using a wearable monitoring device, Equimetrics aims to continuously track heart rate, respiration, temperature, sweat, movement and location of horses, and pushes alerts if anything untoward shows up.

Kite Medical

Kite Medical spun out of NUI Galway in 2016 and, in 2018, raised €1.5m in funding. The company has devised a non-invasive point-of-care screening tool for kidney reflux in children.

Founded by Sarah Loughney, who now acts as CSO alongside Joan FitzPatrick (CEO), Kite Medical have combined their experience in engineering and medical devices to develop a wearable system of adhesive sensor pads, proprietary software and a measurement connector.

The company has moved forward with pilot clinical investigations and, last summer, was among 13 companies awarded a €50,000 2019 EIT Health UK-Ireland Headstart Award.

AuriGen Medical

Our second start-up tackling AFib is AuriGen Medical, which has developed a heart implant meant to treat both the stroke and arrhythmia risk associated with this condition.

Founded in 2016, AuriGen is led by CTO Tony O’Halloran and CEO Dr John Thompson. The BioInnovate Ireland spin-out, based in Galway, raised €2.5m from the EU Horizon 2020 SME Instrument funding scheme in 2018.

The company is also part of the Aurigen project consortium at Science Foundation Ireland research centre Cúram, along with the Translational Medical Device Lab at NUI Galway and Tyndall National Institute. This project will see €5.9m invested in developing this solution.

Loci Orthopaedics

Loci Orthopaedics has developed a product called the InDx implant, which can fully mimic the natural but complex motions of the thumb joint. Using 3D-printed surface architecture, this device is said to be easier to insert and less invasive than any currently available surgical treatment option for thumb arthritis.

Founded by CEO Dr Brendan Boland and CTO Gerry Clarke, this NUI Galway spin-out has raised €2.75m in seed funding and last year received a €2.5m grant from the EU to fast-track the development of its solution.

Neurent Medical

Founded by Brian Shields and David Townley, Neurent Medical sets out to help people with allergic and non-allergic rhinitis (an inflammation in the nose) with a minimally invasive hand-held radio frequency device. This device can be used to treat patients out of hospital, cutting down cost and the need for existing surgical procedures.

The company raised €9.3m in funding in 2018 led by Fountain Healthcare Partners. The following year, Shields was crowned 2019’s Founder of the Year among Enterprise Ireland’s shortlisted high-potential start-ups.

N-Pro

Yet another Galway-based start-up, N-Pro is tackling sports injuries with a specially developed headguard designed to absorb impact.

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Founders Mark Ganly and Dr Sandra Ganly spent seven years developing this headguard, combining their expertise in sports equipment design and manufacturing, biomedical engineering and medical device innovation.

Late last year, the company announced a major deal with World Rugby to support a global trial of N-Pro’s headgear over the next five years. You might even catch sight of it on the pitch during the upcoming Six Nations tournament.

Healx

Cambridge-based Healx claims to have sped up drug discovery by 80pc and reduced costs by 90pc using AI and machine learning technology. For its efforts, the company raised $10m in its Series A in 2018 and $56m in a Series B led by Atomico in 2019.

Healx hopes its drug discovery platform will advance 100 rare disease treatments to clinical trials by 2025 and its own Rare Treatment Accelerator programme is offering up to $1m in AI and drug discovery resources for projects investigating rare diseases.

LipoCoat

LipoCoat’s bio-inspired coatings for medical devices has seen it recognised as a promising European biotech in the past year. Founded in 2016 by Dr Jasper van Weerd, Prof Marcel Karperien and Prof Pascal Jonkheijm, this Dutch spin-out from the University of Twente has raised around €3m in funding to date.

LipoCoat’s natural bacteria-repelling coating based on nanotechnology is intended to ward off life-threatening infections in hospital environments. It’s hoped these coatings will also improve the comfort, safety and performance of medical devices such as implants, contact lenses and catheters.

Aurum Biosciences

Glasgow’s Aurum Biosciences is targeting the treatment of stroke with ABL-101, which combines oxygen-carrying particles and MRI technology to precisely identify salvageable tissue following acute ischaemic stroke, and the origin of the clot. This novel solution could have further applications in the treatment of heart disease, cancer, epilepsy and dementia.

Developed using technology originating from the University of Glasgow and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the company is now led by CEO Jim McGuire. The company has raised about $4.5m and recently partnered with US firm Tenax Therapeutics to develop its experimental therapeutic oxygen-carrier product, Oxycyte.

Biohope

Spanish biotech start-up Biohope is currently focused on its lead product: Immunibiogram. This commercial lab kit is meant to predict the most effective immunosuppressant drugs tailored to a kidney transplant patient, thus mitigating both the side-effects of the drugs and the chance of a transplant rejection. According to founder and CEO Dr Isabel Portero: “It’s very cheap and it works.”

Based in Madrid, Biohope was founded in 2015 and crowdfunded almost €332,000 in 2018. Biohope also coordinated the Transbio project to develop this testing kit, which received almost €4m in Horizon 2020 funding.

Bluedrop Medical

Founded in 2015, Bluedrop Medical raised early funding of €600,000 in 2016, followed by a seed investment of €1.2m in 2019. The company was also awarded a €2.5m European Innovation Council grant and was among five companies to receive €100,000 from Enterprise Ireland and the HSE through the Small Business Innovation Research programme.

All this is going towards the development of a device that can predict the formation of diabetic foot ulcers. Founders Chris Murphy and Simon Kiersey now lead a team of 10 out of GMIT’s Innovation Hub, preparing the device for clinical trial this year.

Atturos

With personalised medicine poised to revolutionise healthcare, UCD spin-out Atturos is on the case with a pipeline of advanced blood tests to support this tailored approach across a variety of conditions. This company was founded by Prof Stephen Pennington, who serves as chief scientific officer.

Atturos’s original focus was on prostate cancer with its lead product, the OCProDx test. In 2019, Australian medtech Proteomics International Laboratories transferred its PromarkerD diagnostic blood test technology to the labs of Atturos, making this diabetic kidney disease test available for licensing in Europe.

Axial3D

Founded by Daniel Crawford in 2014, Belfast’s Axial3D has been cited by the NHS as “helping to transform surgery”. This praise is attributed to the company’s ability to 3D print patient-specific anatomical models at a rapid speed.

These models can be useful for preoperative planning as well as medical device prototyping and custom prosthetics. Axial3D adds machine learning to the process to speed up the transition from a 2D image to an accurate 3D model.

After raising £2.4m last year, the company eyeing expansion in the US following successful collaborations in hospitals across the UK and Ireland.

Hidramed Solutions

Our last stop at NUI Galway on this list brings us to Hidramed Solutions. This company targets a debilitating skin disease called hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), which founder and CEO Suzanne Moloney has experience with herself.

The lesions on the skin caused by HS require regular wound dressing. For those with the condition, Hidramed has developed an easy-to-use, adhesive-free dressing system via its flagship product, HidraWear.

In 2018, the company was awarded through Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund and was accepted into the BioExel medtech accelerator. Since then, it has secured almost €200,000 through grants and enterprise competitions.

Neurovalens

In 2017, Neurovalens crowdfunded £1.2m in just 60 days for its flagship electronic headset, Modius. In March 2019, it secured one of the largest ever funding rounds for a Northern Ireland start-up with a £4.6m Series A.

What started out as a product to aid weight loss by sending electrical signals to the brain, Neurovalens now wants to unlock the potential of Modius as a potential treatment for conditions such as diabetes, insomnia and anxiety.

Founded by neuroscientists Dr Jason McKeown and Dr Paul McGeoch, the company raised £750,000 to launch the Modius Sleep product in the US.

Updated, 2.53pm, 5 February 2020: This article has been amended following clarification from Kite Medical to reflect that Paul Frehill is no longer working with the company.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com