HealthBeacon’s Laura Hamilton on the business links between Ireland and Boston

17 Jan 2020

Laura Hamilton. Image: HealthBeacon

HealthBeacon’s CEO of North America, Laura Hamilton, talks about her path into the biopharma industry and her plans to expand the Irish medtech company in the US.

Back in December, we listed Cork-native Laura Hamilton as one of our entrepreneurs to watch in 2020. Now based in Boston, Hamilton has had a varied career so far.

She started out in finance before moving to the biopharma industry, becoming director of business development at MassBio –the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council – where she introduced almost 700 companies and organisations into networks ranging across biotech, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, medtech and digital health.

Around this time, she also got involved with the Boston Irish Business Association (BIBA) and became president of the group in 2017.

Last year, Irish medtech start-up HealthBeacon appointed Hamilton as the CEO of its North America operations, with a stateside base in Boston. Founded in 2013, HealthBeacon is developing smart tools for managing medication.

‘It’s very common for companies to look at Boston as a point of entry to the US market. The biopharma sector is older and more mature there’

Hamilton’s new role puts her in charge of the company’s operations in Boston and Montreal, and last December she led BIBA on a trade mission across Ireland, which included a visit to HealthBeacon’s Dublin HQ.

During her visit, we spoke to Hamilton about her experiences in business so far, and her plans for the North American arm of HealthBeacon.

A large group of people stand on an astro-turf floor, in front of a sign that reads 'Health Beacon'.

The BIBA trade mission visiting HealthBeacon’s Dublin HQ last year. Image: HealthBeacon

How did you end up moving from financial services to biopharma?

It was through my professional network with BIBA, which I am now president of. In the earliest days, when I was working in financial services, that group helped me to develop a network and quickly helped me realise that I had a different set of skills that would be well suited to an external-facing role. That’s where the transition began, when I took on my first role with MassBio.

How useful was your past experience when you moved into the biopharma sector?

From the positions that I’ve held in the last few years, I’ve gotten a very high level of overview of the industry, from end to end. From early-stage research to commercialising medication and bringing it to market, I’ve developed a good end-to-end perspective, as opposed to being focused in one particular area. Over the course of my experience in industry, I was always externally facing and I cared about publicly positioning the companies that I was working with it. That really lent itself well to developing a really top class global biopharma network.

Can you tell us about HealthBeacon’s technology?

It’s a medication adherence technology company that designs smart tools for managing medication. Adherence is a very large problem within the biopharma sector. You see companies spending years and years, and a lot of money to develop a drug, then bring it to market and prove its efficacy, however when the patients have the medication, it’s up to them to ensure that they are taking it properly and on time.

Adherence is a very large area of concern, in terms of compliance and keeping on track of medication. As opposed to trying to solve adherence across the board, HealthBeacon specifically focuses on the injectable medication space, having created the world’s first FDA-cleared smart sharps bin, where the patient can self-inject at home, then dispose of the needle or autoinjector into a connected smart bin that not only tracks the time, but captures an image of the disposed needle, tracking patterns and creating a score based on the patients’ adherence. Beyond that, the technology has predictability capabilities that will further enable us to utilise the wide array of data analytics we’re gathering.

Why did HealthBeacon choose to expand from a Boston base?

Boston is the global hub of the biopharma sector, as is Cambridge, Massachusetts. The ecosystem has developed in strength around that, so it’s very common for global companies to look at Boston as a point of entry to the US market. The sector is older and more mature there, with a very high concentration of academic institutions and research hospitals that continue to fuel the research pipeline. There’s a lot of US funding allocated here, further strengthening and supporting the industry.

If you think about the Irish connection to the US, it’s well known that there’s a deep concentration of Irish heritage in Boston, with many, many years of immigration bringing the Irish into Boston, such as my own family. Through networks like BIBA, companies like HealthBeacon are able to ramp up and market quickly by gaining access to resources and a powerful, very well-connected network that can assist a quick and easy move.

What are your plans for developing the company in Boston?

There’s a very large commercial opportunity for HealthBeacon in the US. They’ve been very successful to date in Europe with the roll-out of the technology and the product launching in 13 countries. Now that the traction is there and the data is starting to gather and form, we’re iterating future product lines now to really optimise what it is that we’re doing for patients.

The market in the US is unquestionably the largest commercial opportunity for HealthBeacon, so the plans are to develop the strategy further based upon what we’ve done in Europe, working with pharmaceutical companies through their patient support programmes. We’re also looking at other initiatives in the US as well, which are very early stage at this point, but the plans are vast.

Are there any plans for expansion beyond Boston?

Absolutely. While our office is in Boston, the expansion plan is broadly across the US. We will be travelling to meet potential clients and will be looking forward to announcing deals that we are closing in the next few weeks. Those conversations are already happening, so while I’ll be based in the Boston office, I’ll be really mobile across the US.

Finally, what did you achieve from the BIBA trade mission to Ireland?

It all seemed very serendipitous – this trade mission was in my head for years, but we’ve been planning it for the last year. The timing of it aligned really well with my appointment to the new position. It was really a joy to return home to Ireland and to work for one of Ireland’s most innovative companies.

We spent the trip following up with groups and delegations and it was an opportunity to bring folks from the BIBA network into Ireland so they could see the market first hand. Specifically in Dublin, the visit to HealthBeacon, for me, was a highlight of the trip because it meant I could showcase to my business peers and colleagues from Boston and let them meet the co-founders, touch the technology and see the whole operation in Dublin.

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Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic