‘A real milestone’: Dr Sandra Ganly on N-Pro’s new deal with World Rugby

20 Nov 2019

From left: Mark Ganly and Dr Sandra Ganly beside the N-Pro headgear. Image: N-Pro

World Rugby has agreed to a five-year trial with Galway-based N-Pro, which will support the development of the company’s sports headgear.

On Tuesday (19 November), Galway-based start-up N-Pro, which has developed a headguard that provides protection against impacts, announced a major deal with World Rugby.

The sports body has agreed to support a global trial for N-Pro’s headgear over the next five years. This trial has been devised to allow the manufacturer to gather further scientific evidence during games to continue developing the product, and is part of World Rugby’s efforts to improve player welfare and safety.

The business, founded by Mark Ganly and Dr Sandra Ganly, has invested more than €1m into the research and design of its headguard to date.

‘It’s the first time a sporting organisation has opened up their players to the opportunity to be able to trial innovative solutions to reduce injury in the playing population’

The two founders have vast expertise in different fields, with Mark spending more than a decade in sports equipment design and manufacturing, while Sandra has a PhD in biomedical engineering and medical device innovation.

Designed on medical device principles

Following the announcement, we spoke to Dr Ganly, who is CTO of the business, about the deal and how her experience helped in the development of the product.

“My background is in biomedical engineering, so the whole product itself was designed on medical device principles – so everything I’ve learned from undergrad right up to senior engineer has gone right into it,” she said.

“I started out designing and developing heart stents and hip implants and every aspect of that process has been mirrored into the process of developing the N-Pro. It’s really about what we’re trying to do about improving outcomes for injuries.”

While built on the principles of a medical device, the N-Pro is not a registered medical device in Ireland. Ganly added: “The technology was developed by my husband. It’s made up of a multi-layer construction of viscoelastic materials which are designed to absorb impact. It’s that combination of materials in a particular construction that is a proprietary feature of the technology.”

With the help of World Rugby, N-Pro aims to grow its market share by selling its headguard to both adult and young rugby players. According to World Rugby, there were 9.6m rugby players around the globe in 2018.

When asked what kind of opportunities this deal will offer her company, Ganly said that the announcement is “a real milestone”.

“It’s actually a milestone for all sports manufacturers, because it’s the first time that a sporting organisation has opened up their players to the opportunity to be able to trial innovative solutions to reduce injury in the playing population,” she added.

“This will open the door for hopefully many more to come. For us, it’s about proving the effectiveness of the N-Pro. We’ve done a lot of work to date on proving its potential to be hugely effective here. We also have three years of real world evidence.

“In order for us to make any claims about the effectiveness, we have to have a large population. That’s why this trial is so important, because we get to do that now and have access to up to 9.6m players.”

The market

Utilising its cutting-edge ‘defentex’ technology, N-Pro is designed to reduce the G-force energy transferred to a player’s head during impact, which is one of the main factors in sports-related brain injuries. The start-up has designed a multi-layer construction that manages G-force impact.

The product has undergone extensive testing, including bench testing, simulated conditions-of-use tests, simulated ageing tests, fatigue tests, biomechanical tests, three-dimensional finite element computational modelling, pre-clinical studies and clinical feasibility studies by independent experts and independent test laboratories.

The Galway-based start-up sees a large market for its product, as only 35pc of the revenue in the global sports protective equipment market comes from five prominent brands. The remaining 65pc comes from smaller players that are either nascent or are regionally restricted.

Mark Ganly added: “We are delighted to be working with World Rugby on this innovative global headgear trial. N-Pro has been designed to reduce the risk of injury to rugby players by efficiently managing head impact injury.

“Our R&D has been built upon rigorous scientific data, so this global trial allows us to observe the performance of N-Pro and gather live match data from all levels of the game.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic