UK Digital Healthcare: Should you be tracking University Spin-offs?

“Britain is leading the charge among its European counterparts when it comes to embracing the digital transformation of healthcare. From nimble start-ups to the evolution of the National Health Service, the healthcare revolution is picking up pace – and the benefits are already being felt.”

 – Net-App chief technology officer Grant Caley

Who would have imagined 3 months back that most of the patients would be seeing their doctors digitally over a mobile app. Is this a new technology? Absolutely No, but large companies were ignoring it as hospital viewing is here to stay. Startups are the only one that has the advantage of having access to the early adopters and the product which has a product-market fit.

Covid-19 changed everything. It made all the startups in the healthcare sector super attractive. However, before we talk about the last 3 months, let’s talk about the last decade.

Over the past decade, the UK has explored the use of digital technologies to modernize healthcare services,  with varying degrees of success.

According to the Association of British HealthTech Industries, the UK health tech sector is now the largest employer in the broader Life Sciences industry, employing 127,400 people in 3,860 companies (many of which are start-ups/spin-offs), with a combined turnover of £24 billion.

With the UK flourishing in the digital healthcare sector and spin-offs being a crucial part in it, isn’t investing in spin-offs quite justifiable?

Research programs at the universities are blooming nowadays and one of the possible ways to commercialize the inventions is spin-offs (i.e. start-ups by universities researchers). 

If you consider what the world has to say about Spin-offs, you will find differing reviews on the internet. In 2019, an article on Forbes mentioned spin-offs are outperforming and are a fruitful investment area. Whereas one of the recent articles from Forbes indicates that spin-offs have dramatically underperformed! 

So, I am not sure what to believe, but one thing is clear- if it aligns with your vision, then acquiring spin-offs has been a proven strategy from the past for big market players. It helps them to hire fresh talent or research scholars and get their hands on ready-made breakthrough solutions. Which in turn helps them to have an edge over their competitors. 

A few examples are GE Healthcare which acquired Monica Health, known for the fetal heart monitor, and Stryker Corporation, which acquired Acrobot, who developed a surgical robotic system and software for error-free knee and back surgeries. 

From the above examples, we can deduce that it is fundamental to keep an eye on the new spin-offs (i.e. startups) that are coming to the market. Particularly, if their solution has potential. 

Let’s explore some examples of promising spin-offs in the digital healthcare sector of the UK. These spin-offs have been chosen depending on their technology potency, funding received, IP protection, and Technology Readiness Levels (TRL).

Promising Spin-offs in Digital Healthcare

1. Oxford VR

Have you ever thought that your VR headset can help someone coping with mental illness? Let me answer this one for you, No ways! Right?

Well, let me just start by saying- YES WAYS

Founded in 2016, this Oxford University spin-off has proved us wrong, where they are building effective VR-based mental health treatments.

The technology has been filed for protection at the UK office. The patent (GB201908647D0) is related to Virtual reality therapeutic systems and is yet to be granted. 

In fact, in one of their recent white papers – THE BIG RESET: why COVID-19 presents a blue moon moment for mental health technology. They talked about how COVID-19 is giving birth to mental health issues due to job losses, business shut-down, depression, loneliness, panic, and fear. And discussed the role of VR therapy in the new digital healthcare ecosystem. 

If we talk about the funding, then till now they have raised a total of £13.2M in funding over 3 rounds the last one being Series A funding round—the largest investment funding for VR therapy in the UK and Europe.

In March 2020, they have officially launched a VR-based therapy to help people overcome social anxiety.

Mental health has started to become a priority for a while now and with the recent scenario, the digital healthcare system is unfolding to new dimensions. Looking at the circumstances, this technology seems to be quite promising, right?

Moving on to the next spin-off.

2. Footfalls and Heartbeats (UK) Ltd

How will you react if I say that your vest or t-shirt is capable enough to monitor your physiological activity? That’s a *WOW!* isn’t it!? To be more precise your respiratory activity, sleep cycle, cardiovascular activity, prosthetic touch applications; diabetic ulcer diagnosis; and fetal movement can all be monitored by the vest you wear. 

Yes, you heard me right! 

This 2016 spin-off from the University of Nottingham is doing amazing work by manufacturing a smart fabric that uses nano-scale interactions within the textile to make the fabric itself act as the sensor. 

They have already protected this technology in the US (US10119208B2) and its EP (EP3033448A1) family member is still in the application stage. The main idea of these patents revolves around methods for making electrically conductive textiles and textile sensors. 

One more strange fact that revolves around this spin-off is that this company originated from New Zealand, but later on, shifted all its operations to the UK and collaborated with the university in 2015. 

Foresight Group LLP announced a further £749k equity investment into Footfalls and Heartbeats Limited., through the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF) in October 2019. This led to a £1.5m round with additional backing from the University of Nottingham and several new and previously existing High Net Worth Investors.

Next in the list is MindMate. 

3. MindMate (currently Citruslabs)

Ever imagined that one-day mobile applications could help you judge the way you are feeling or let’s say what your mental state is? That is indeed something mind-boggling. Nevertheless, it’s true. Nowadays there are a lot of mobile applications out there that are taking care of your emotional wellbeing and mental health and MindMate is one of them. The company is mainly targeting Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients. The app platform is providing brain games, healthy nutrition, regular exercise, and social interaction, which is helping the society to get rid of the mental illness challenges, especially in this era of COVID-19.  

MindMate started from Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde. Now the app has over 500,000 users across the world and more than 1,000 5-star reviews on the app store. 

In 2018, MindMate secured $2m in funding from US investors. With the increase in mental illness due to loneliness, MindMate has surely secured its place as a perfect company to keep. 

Another spin-off from Glasgow’s university is the ClinSpec Dx.

4. ClinSpec Dx

This Spin-off from the Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde is revolutionizing the blood test that can provide accurate results in ten minutes to detect brain cancers or other forms of cancers. You heard me! They claim to provide the world with advanced level blood test facilities which can potentially improve brain cancer survival rates through early detection. They are making it possible by using infra-red light and incorporating machine learning, which is based on the research of Dr. Matthew J. Baker at the University of Strathclyde. 

They have filed three UK patent applications so far which are revolving around the same tech areas and are yet to be published. These are:

Last year, they secured funding of £1.2m from Mercia Fund Managers, the Scottish Investment Bank’s Co-Investment Fund, and EOS Technology Partners.

Now let’s move on to the last but not the least spin-off on our list!

5. Blueskeye AI

Earlier we introduced you to MindMate, where they are helping you identify your mental state with the help of mobile applications. This is another technique discovered by Blueskeye AI on the same lines. Here too, your mobile phone will be helping you out to understand your emotions. But howWell, the applications will be using mobile cameras to spot changes in the facial behaviors caused by stress or depression. They are making this possible with the help of groups such as mental health specialists, machine learning, and AI experts. In one of the recent articles published on the Business-cloud Experts claim smartphone camera can spot depression, it is mentioned that-

“BlueSkeye AI will put the ability to monitor mental health into the hands of individuals and medical professionals by building an affordable and accessible tool on the mobile.”

This company was founded in 2019 as a spin-out company from the University of Nottingham. They also received £100,000 from the University to speed-up the process and come out with results for the UK population.

The bottom line

These were just a few examples of successful spin-off investments. Every day in the digital health care sector, we see new start-ups popping up. And with the mind-boggling innovations that they offer, it’s hard to overlook them.

These new technologies will not only help in the here and now, but they will also shape the future of healthcare in the UK and indeed across the world. So once again, if it aligns with your company’s vision, spin-offs can prove to be a very fruitful investment!

But, for startups and new players, there is a negligible amount of information on the internet, making it all the way more difficult to reflect their developments. 

This makes it exhausting to keep track of all of them or to even choose the ones to monitor and the ones to keep on the backburner. But with the combined power of our expertise in the subject matter and our analytical skills, we can run the numbers for you. Weigh the merits and demerits of every solution provided by the start-ups, and can tell you exactly the ones causing threats and the extent of it. 

Now, there can be a lot of mitigating strategies that can be employed. Depending on whether you have to deal with the companies causing an immediate threat or the ones that can bring business. These include investing in them, or acquiring them or licensing their technology, but that is a tale for another day!

Want to see our combined powers in action? Well, Superman got nothing on us, we’re only one click away !

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Authored by: Rohit Jaswal, Manager, Prior art and Nidhi, Research Analyst, Market Research

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