Strong science, global reach, and commercial progress: standout features of science award finalists

Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards

The medtech category finalists of the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards are always impressive and inspiring. This year, they demonstrate persistence and future promise, offering both a beacon of hope for other companies who may be facing challenges on the road to commercialisation, and serious innovation with breakthrough scientific research and technology development that could make a global impact.

This was our third year of involvement with the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards. Duncan Smith, Managing Partner Medical, joined the judging panel for the medtech category, as well as the AI, life science, and employer of the year categories. He was struck with the strength of the core science behind many of this year’s finalists, as well as their ongoing resilience in the challenging economic environment.

In the medtech category Duncan noted a clear continuation of the post-pandemic trend for technologies which make diagnosis, treatment, and management of illness more accessible and patient centric. He identified strong science coupled with innovative technology, global advancements, and commercial progress as three noteworthy features of this year’s finalists.

“The Cambridge Science and Technology Awards are an excellent vehicle for highlighting some of the interesting developments coming out of Cambridge, UK. However, translating novel technology into commercial success is never easy, especially in times of economic challenge, but this year’s medtech category finalists have done just that. Several have made impressive gains, in the UK and internationally, securing funding, regulatory approvals and more. All of this bodes well for the finalists’ future business performance.”

The finalists’ clarity of vision, and achievements over the past 12 months, offer inspiration for science and technology companies of all sizes and sectors.

Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards 2023

Medtech category finalists

Strong science and innovative tech

The winners of the medtech award, a finger-prick blood test developed by 52North, is a prime example of how advanced life sciences expertise can be applied to unmet medical needs, benefiting patients and healthcare systems alike. It offers a rapid and reliable way to identify whether patients on chemotherapy are at risk of neutropenic sepsis.  

The traditional neutropenic sepsis pathway requires any chemotherapy patient feeling unwell to immediately attend hospital on a ‘just in case’ basis. However, two in five are not at risk, and around half of those who are do not receive the necessary antibiotics within the recommended timeframe. The low-cost, at-home Neutrocheck® solution from 52North is set to be a gamechanger. In the UK alone it could save hundreds of lives each year and prevent thousands of unnecessary visits to A&E.

Kalium Health’s electrolyte monitoring device is similarly empowering. Aimed at people with cardiorenal diseases, its goal is to make meaningful improvements to treatment pathways. This is achieved by enabling frequent, proactive measurement and management of blood electrolyte balances, especially potassium. 

Meanwhile, the team at BIOS Health is on a mission to improve people’s quality of life with neural engineering to help treat chronic disease. Founded by a computational neuroscientist and a biomechanical engineer, it shows how AI-enabled digital therapies might enhance and enrich healthcare. SMi Drug Discovery is also pushing boundaries with its automated high-resolution technology capable of viewing single molecule interactions in real-time. These optical advancements will form the basis of a diagnostic device enabling earlier detection of disease and a super-resolution microscope. The microscope will allow scientists to analyse interactions between a therapeutic target and the antibodies or small molecule drugs created to remedy a disease or disorder.

Finally, the Highly Commended company in the medtech award category, Endomag, is revolutionising breast cancer surgery with its localisation platform Sentimag. This technology enables greater flexibility and precision for better patient comfort, reduced invasiveness of surgery, and improved surgical outcomes.

A common feature of the 2023 medtech category finalists is a focus on unmet needs. This is especially powerful when it’s applied to patient needs, where it can make a significant positive difference to healthcare outcomes. Our Design Director Carl Hewett explores this topic in more detail in this article on empathetic medical design

Global reach

While the finalists all have a strong presence in Cambridge, their potential impact reaches far beyond the Silicon Fen, it’s global. Endomag, SMi Drug Discovery, and BIOS Health each have offices or laboratories in the US. What’s more, over the past 12 months, several finalists have extended their global reach via partnership initiatives and regulatory approvals.

In December 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Endomag’s Magtrace® lymphatic tracer for all patients undergoing breast cancer surgery. The company also celebrated its 300,000-patient milestone in 2022, with Sentimag now used in 1,000 hospitals worldwide.

An exciting development at BIOS Health will see it moving into eight global clinics via a study funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). This $21 million clinical programme, Research Evaluating Vagal Excitation and Anatomical Links (REVEAL), will collect and analyse neural data from 150 patients, investigating the potential for neural therapies. According to the official announcement, the team behind the study hope it will have a similar impact on the treatment of chronic disease as Human Genome studies have had on the treatment of cancer and rare disease.

52 North has also enjoyed recognition at an international level over the past 12 months. It was one of 50 global companies selected for the prestigious MedTech Innovator accelerator programme which unlocks mentoring and funding opportunities for early and mid-stage startups. The Department of International Trade also selected it for a Life Science Innovator Showcase.

Commercial progress

The medtech category finalists are at various stages of clinical, regulatory, and product development. Several are yet to launch a product to market, but commercialisation is still front of mind. The past year saw some noteworthy funding developments, indicating that awarding bodies recognise the medical and business potential of the technologies. While overall venture capital funding is down significantly in 2023, these achievements should enable the finalists to continue making solid commercial progress.

One of the biggest funding success stories is 52 North. It secured the first ever investment from Macmillan’s new Innovation Impact portfolio, as well as a £1.2million grant from Innovate UK, and other awards from various sources. These achievements underline the potential of the company’s Neutrocheck® solution, and enable it to be taken into clinical trials.

SMi Drug Discovery also benefitted from an Innovate UK award this year. An earlier award made in 2021 allowed it to partner with the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, the Medicines Discovery Catapult and the National Physical Laboratory to develop its technology for testing for respiratory diseases. The latest funding will enable the same technology to be applied to the detection of cancer.

For Kalium Health, cash raised at the end of 2022 set the company up for further technology advancement, global partnership opportunities and growth in 2023. Commercial growth is also on the cards for Endomag. With products already in use worldwide, its latest FDA approval paves the way for further expansion in the US market. BIOS Health is also likely to see progress in its commercialisation strategy on the back of its involvement with the NIH study. Funding received in 2022 included a $100,000 award linked to the NIH Common Fund.

Blending vision with pragmatism

This year’s medtech category finalists are all founded on visionary principles. Several are looking to reinvent, transform, and reimagine patient experiences, outcomes, and treatment pathways. They are all focused on using science and technology for the greater good, to improve the health of people all over the world. Yet vision is not enough in itself to achieve these goals. It must be coupled with a pragmatic approach to overcome the inevitable challenges, from clinical validation to regulatory clearance to obtaining financial reimbursement.

What sets these finalists apart is their ability to make a strong and persuasive case for their technology, winning the support of funders and the approval of regulators. They understand the complexity of the market they are trying to infiltrate, and the advantages of partnering or collaborating with others to navigate this and further their goals.

It’s not easy to crack the medical market, and the current economic climate further escalates the challenge. But, as the examples highlighted here indicate, there is still much potential for companies that show persistence, resilience, and pragmatism.

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