On Saturday 6th April 2019, the Royal Society of Medicine hosted a UK-leading innovation workshop, focused on filling a gap for innovation in bringing together early-stage entrepreneurs with senior clinicians, to spot challenges and new opportunities for the inventions and ideas in med tech.
Inspired by a pairing model piloted at MIT, the RSM paired five early-stage medical researchers with five ‘super-user’ clinicians in an effort to bridge the gap between the innovation ecosystem and target end users.
The entrepreneurs were selected from the MedTech SuperConnector, a new Imperial College London-led initiative that aims to translate research from eight higher education institutions into viable medical technologies.
The ventures under discussion included inexpensive paper-based sensors to detect early patient deterioration due to sepsis, an AI platform that predicts musculoskeletal disorders using machine learning and computer vision, and a soft robotic liner for prosthetics.
These young entrepreneurs were each matched with a senior 'super-user' clinician from the RSM’s network, selected for their relevant expertise.
The workshop is part of an ongoing collaboration between the MedTech SuperConnector and the RSM.
During an hour-long workshop facilitated by RSM Director of Learning Bridget Gildea, the pairs discussed the ventures and fed back to the group on three areas: the practical clinical applications for the entrepreneurial ideas, new opportunities and challenges that had arisen, and the specific actions the researchers would be putting into motion after the workshop.
The enthusiasm for the ventures was clear to see, and the clinicians helped the researchers discover genuinely new opportunities they had not yet broached.
Speaking about the Spyras sepsis-detecting venture, RSM Pathology Council President Dr Ian Hosein - who was the first to introduce alcohol gel into an NHS hospital in 1996 - called the technology “astounding”, describing the problem of sepsis on wards today as "huge”.
Dr Hosein advised that in addition to detecting sepsis, analysing respiratory rates also informs how doctors administer antibiotics - something Winfield described as a “whole new offshoot to look into”.
Dr Hosein also underlined the importance of putting yourself in the shoes of the patients and clinicians who would actually be using the technology.
Spyras founder George Winfield said: “One of the points raised that we need to address more is around risk profiling, and putting ourselves in the patient’s shoes. What is it going to be like for an 85-year-old dementia patient accepting the technology?
“We need to go back through our understanding of how we want to integrate this into a clinical practice, and how people will actually use the technology versus how we think they will use it. We need to ensure we have a sound understanding of both pathways.”
Ugur Tanriverdi, the founder of Unhindr, a soft robotic liner for prosthetics, was matched with consultant vascular surgeon Mr Joseph Shalhoub from the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
Speaking about Unhindr, Mr Shalhoub said: “When you have a new technology, sometimes people create devices and there’s not really a clinical problem that they have to find a solution for, but actually here, amputees and patients with lower limb problems really do have a need for adaptive technologies that use robotics and artificial intelligence in order to improve the clinical outcomes.
“And what we’ve done today is work together to try and bring some of the basic science work closer to a transitional arena, and I think that’s very exciting.”
The pair are now planning to work together to help Ugur Tanriverdi and Unhindr start clinical trials for the prosthetics device, which recently secured €612,000 in funding from the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT).
The mentoring workshop at the RSM was made possible through the generous support of Proteus Digital Health, and was partially inspired by discussions with Proteus CEO Andy Thompson, a UK citizen and successful serial entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley, California. Andy was eager to support the innovative work in the medical sector in the UK and thought the RSM educational program could be an ideal way to accomplish that.
Speaking after the event, Bridget Gildea said: "Frequently in the innovation space the majority of the focus is on either ideas already taken to market, or the mentoring of early-stage entrepreneurs with successful start up leaders, so when we at the RSM started to think about how we could input and support into the innovation ecosystem, we wanted to do something different and innovative in itself, and also focused on our core activity of peer to peer (or expert to expert) learning.
"Throughout discussions with leaders in medical innovation in the US, we identified that one major gap in a young entrepreneur’s toolkit is that of access to experienced clinicians and leaders in the field, to give honest and rigorous feedback in a structured way. Hence this “super-user” pairing workshop. The RSM is a key convener in medical education and knowledge transfer, so this kind of innovation-focused workshop is the next logical step, and based on the early feedback, we’re looking forward to doing more of this over the coming months.”