52 North Health raises £1m to progress NeutroCheck device with app
Medtech start-up 52 North Health has raised £1million in its first round of funding from leading UK and European specialist investors.
One of the winners of the Postdoc Business Plan Competition – now the Chris Abell Postdoc Business Plan Competition – in 2018, 52 North was awarded $1.4m in funding in January this year to accelerate development of its NeutroCheck device.
The company – a finalist in this week’s (May 11) Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards – was co-founded by husband and wife team Dr Saif Ahmad, an academic consultant oncologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital linked to CRUK Cambridge Centre, and Umaima Ahmad, who is CEO and co-founder, having made the switch from a role at AstraZeneca.
The concept emerged in 2017 when Umaima was taking a masters in bioscience enterprise at the University of Cambridge. She asked Saif to identify issues he saw in the hospital to develop a business plan, which caught the eye of the Postdoc team.
It is based on private equity, explains Umaima – the initial funding having come from SBRI Healthcare, the NHS England-funded initiative supported by the Academic Health Science Network.
“The $1.4m in January was grant funding from SPRI,” she says, “and now this $1m is an equity raise to support commercial activities, and it brings in expertise including Meltwind, which is the Jonathan Milner fund – so it’s really opening doors – and Crista Galli. The investment takes us to beyond next January to submitting for regulatory approval, which is the next milestone.”
The company’s NeutroCheck device, a fully-integrated clinical, AI and medical device-based system for people living with cancer, is due to start clinical trials in January 2023. The NeutroCheck is a point-of-care device for patients outside of hospital to monitor their risk of neutropenic sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of chemotherapy.
By enabling at-home monitoring, the NeutroCheck allows significant improvements in health outcomes, quality of life and safety, while preventing unnecessary hospital trips.
“The NeutroCheck prototype is the same as it was, what’s new is the mobile app,” says Umaima. “We’ve been developing the digital platform to support the device, so that allows a patient to use the device with the app in front of them. We are co-creating with patients – they’re thoroughly involved. If they ask us to tweak something we tweak it. It’s so amazing, we’re so grateful for all the patients’ time – they’re all volunteers.
“Clinical trials due to begin at Addenbrooke’s in January – or at least the first quarter – are all set up with Cambridge University Hospitals, and it’ll be the year after that for the launch. Working with Macmillan Cancer Support has been great.”
Umaima adds: “We’ve discussed NeutroCheck with more than 50 patients. It’s all done virtually to keep patients safe.”
The company has strategic partnerships with the UK Sepsis Trust as well as Macmillan Cancer Support, “in order to define a new clinical pathway for treating suspected neutropenic sepsis, and to ensure people living with disease continue to be at the heart of the product life-cycle”.
52 North Health takes its name from the GPS co-ordinates of Cambridge where it was founded in 2018 and is based at ideaSpace West in the Hauser Forum.
“There’s seven in the team now. Six are women – we think that’s a really great thing. We encourage girls and women to apply for STEM subjects: we recently did a webinar, reaching out to a number of schools with pupils aged 11 to 15 from relatively disadvantaged schools. The team is incredible here – we’re really keen to share.
“It’s likely there will be two more hires by the end of the year.”
The device will be manufactured by a contractor in Bedford.
“They’re producing 10,000 prototypes for the next process – for validation – by end of the year,” notes Umaima. “We need that many for clinical trials to be sure everything works properly.”
The business is led by a team of multi-disciplinary sector experts, including CEO Umaima; chief scientific and medical officer, Dr Ahmad; co-founder, data scientist and assistant professor at the University of Cambridge; Dr Mireia Crispin-Ortuzar (chief digital officer); and Harvard University-based biosensor engineer Dr Nicole Weckman (technology advisor).
So will 52 North do its own distribution in the UK and US markets it is targeting?
“We want to be an R&D company,” replies Umaima. “Our strength is innovation, so yes outside UK we’ll use distributors so we can focus on the next device or solution for patients’ healthcare journey.”
What’s next in the pipeline?
We want to design things around patients, we’ve not yet pinned down the next area but the platform can be adapted. The technology allows the measurement of blood cells – that’s things that are dissolved in the blood and blood cell count, which is usually done in the lab. So that’s where we’re different, we’re decentralising health care.
“One thing we could do is measure bacteria for urinary tract infections but that’s a long planning area: we’re also considering markets outside chemotherapy, for instance rheumatoid arthritis, where patients are often immuno-suppressive and therefore suitable for immuno-supprssive drugs.”
The current main customer is the NHS.
“NeutroCheck would save them £70m a year, and because we identify patients at risk earlier it could save 400 lives a year so it could be a real game changer. Also we saw how stressed patients are on the chemotherapy journey and on top of that every time you feel unwell you have to be rushed to hospital.
“There are currently100,000 hospital visits a year from patients feeling unwell and we could prevent for half of those visits, because the patients are fine, so NeutroCheck would really help reduce hospital visits for all the stakeholders.”
Fiona Pathiraja, managing partner of Crista Galli Ventures, said: “Funding and innovation in oncology often focuses at the level of the cell. 52 North is disrupting cancer tech by innovating at the level of the patient.
“By building a software- and hardware-enabled solution, 52 North aims to reduce the numbers of patients being admitted to hospital with life-threatening neutropenic sepsis.”