Medtech start-up revolution gains pace at The Digital Hub

8 Dec 2016

From left: Dervilla O’Brien, CEO, HealthBridge Technology; Fionnuala Gibbons, clinical industry liaison officer, Molecular Medicine Ireland; Eamonn Costello, co-founder and CEO, PatientMpower; Caroline Viguier, project manager, Digital Hub; and Sue Proctor, marketing coordinator, Takeda. Image: Peter Houlihan

Medtech start-ups in Dublin are banding together and pooling their knowledge to find better ways of getting their technologies adopted by Ireland’s HSE, as well as other national health bodies around the world.

At a Connected Health event in The Digital Hub, supported by Japanese biotech giant Takeda, a range of medtech-oriented start-ups gathered to gain the latest insights and guidance on everything from product design to regulatory compliance.

Briefings were provided by lecturers and managers from bodies such as the National College of Art and Design, Science Foundation Ireland, EuroComply, the Beacon Clinic and eHealth/HSE.

‘The HSE ecosystem is becoming more open to new technologies and they have met with 89 companies in the last six months’

Future Human

“This is a growing market and Enterprise Ireland have over 100 companies in this space and growing, and to date, 89 of these companies have presented their technologies to the HSE to see how they could translate into the Irish healthcare system,” said Fionnuala Gibbons, clinical industry liaison officer at Molecular Medicine Ireland.

Gibbons said that while major technological changes are afoot at the HSE in terms of the new electronic health records, start-ups will still struggle with the heavy regulatory regime and standards that apply.

“The purpose of the Connected Health workshops at the Digital Hub is to educate the companies what they need to do around design, regulatory compliance and data protection to make it easier for them to sell into the HSE.

“As well as the electronic health records being introduced, clinicians are becoming more like business people and they are into innovation and disruption. They want the technologies to manage patients better, but they need to have the confidence in the device or software that they are being asked to adopt.

“The HSE ecosystem is becoming more open to new technologies,” Gibbons added.

A healthy dose of start-ups

Medtech start-up revolution begins at the Digital Hub

Dervilla O’Brien, HealthBridge Technology. Image: Peter Houlihan

One of the entrepreneurs present at the Connected Health event was Dervilla O’Brien, co-founder of start-up HealthBridge Technology.

HealthBridge is a behavioural analytical software platform for long-term conditions, combining a patient self-monitoring/management mobile app with clinical management software.

“Our platform helps patients and clinicians alike,” O’Brien said. “It allows clinicians to give patients tasks to complete between appointments. For example, in terms of psychiatric patients and the PHQ9 forms, if the next appointment is not for months, the clinician will be able to know if the patient is filling in the surveys.”

HealthBridge’s prototype is being deployed in the UK by the Sussex Community NHS Trust as well as the Oliver Zangwill Centre in Cambridgeshire.

O’Brien said that start-ups trying to sell to the HSE will inevitably struggle with the strict regime around financials, which is more beneficial to established tech companies rather than young firms.

“That said, the system is improving and the HSE is trying. The quick bursaries scheme under eHealth Ireland is a real improvement.”

We also spoke to Eamon Costello and Kerrill Thornhill from PatientMpower, a digital health company with a platform to empower patients to achieve a better outcome, as well as data to improve healthcare.

Medtech start-up revolution begins at the Digital Hub

Eamonn Costello, CEO, PatientMpower. Image: Peter Houlihan

Active in Ireland, the UK and the US, PatientMpower is partnering with physicians, patients and researchers to prove the effectiveness of digital health solutions.

“There is a huge burden of chronic disease management at hospitals in Ireland and around the world,” Costello said.

“We empower patients with tools and resources to self-manage at home. Our target is to focus on more niche medical conditions. These niches alone can be multibillion-dollar markets.

One of these niches is the treatment of pulmonary fibrosis. “There are a lot of chronic conditions that don’t get the attention that diabetes gets.”

Costello said that the company has to look overseas to develop and grow the business. “The revenue models are just not here but they are in the US.”

Thornhill said that part of the problem is that clinicians in Ireland need to view applications and technologies in the same light as they view drugs. “They need to view tech as medication. The world is moving more closely to digital therapeutics.

“The Connected Health event has been useful because it focused heavily on regulation and being market-ready,” Thornhill said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years