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Cambridge medtech start-up 52 North Health awarded $1.4m for NeutroCheck device to help cancer patients



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Cambridge medtech start-up 52 North Health has been awarded $1.4million in funding to accelerate development of its NeutroCheck device.

It is designed to aid patients on chemotherapy who are at risk of neutropenic sepsis (NS), a whole-body reaction to infection which kills three people across England and Wales each day.

Umaima Ahmad, CEO of 52 North Health, a Cambridge start-up which has been awarded $1.4m from SBRI Healthcare. Picture: Keith Heppell
Umaima Ahmad, CEO of 52 North Health, a Cambridge start-up which has been awarded $1.4m from SBRI Healthcare. Picture: Keith Heppell

Due to the risk of death associated with NS, any patients undergoing chemotherapy who feel unwell are told to go directly to A&E, and are given strong precautionary antibiotics and a full blood test. But half of them are subsequently found not to be at risk.

Currently, patients can only use a thermometer to determine their risk, but it is known that temperature alone is a very poor discriminator of sepsis.

The platform developed by 52 North Health enables both soluble and insoluble – or cellular – biomarkers to be detected from a single biological specimen using a low-cost simple-to-use device. An app is used to help inform and empower patients.

The company, based at ideaSpace West at the Hauser Forum, won initial phase one funding from SBRI Healthcare, the NHS England-funded initiative supported by the Academic Health Science Network, in January 2021. It has now followed through with a phase two award of $1.4m.

52 North Health was ranked highest out of all applicants in both phases of the award process, which it credited to its diverse and multi-disciplinary team.

The company 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 now heading up the company as CEO after making the switch from a role at AstraZeneca.

The company was formed from an idea Umaima had in 2017 when 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.

The idea was entered into the university’s Postdoc Business Plan competition, winning £10,000 in November 2018, which enabled early proof-of-concept work.

They were then joined by a third co-founder, Nicole Weckman, who is a biosensor engineer now based at the Wyss Institute at Harvard.

At 52 North Health are, from left, chief digital officer Mireia Crispin-Ortuzar, head of operations Anna Wilson, CEO Umaima Ahmad, head of product development Ama Frimpong and product developer Alex Meehan (54405450)
At 52 North Health are, from left, chief digital officer Mireia Crispin-Ortuzar, head of operations Anna Wilson, CEO Umaima Ahmad, head of product development Ama Frimpong and product developer Alex Meehan (54405450)

Umaima told the Cambridge Independent: “I am excited by the potential of this opportunity, particularly as the platform technology can be applied to other unmet medical needs, including other forms of sepsis, but also within the pharmaceutical industry for treatment monitoring of patients on immunosuppressive drugs. This could enable pharmaceutical companies to generate drugs with improved safety profiles which is a win-win for both patients and industry.”

Saif added: “We are privileged to have the support of the SBRI Healthcare programme and are committed to working with our world-leading collaborators to deliver on our ambitions to improve the care of cancer patients.”

They are working with Macmillan Cancer Support and the UK Sepsis Trust to ensure there is input from doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, patients and carers.

CEO Umaima Ahmad. Picture: Keith Heppell
CEO Umaima Ahmad. Picture: Keith Heppell

Tanya Humphreys, Macmillan Cancer Support’s head of innovation partnerships, said: “Neutropenic sepsis is a life-threatening condition and managing the risks can be very stressful for people with cancer, who are already dealing with all the challenges that a diagnosis can bring. But good care is a lifeline, not a luxury, and giving patients the tools to better manage their care can be a key component to helping to improve their quality of life.”

The new funding will enable the development of NeutroCheck to be finalised for manufacturing and for clinical usability trials. The company reports interest from “multiple” NHS trusts, with Addenbrooke’s due to be the main site for the clinical trials.

Dr Ron Daniels, founder and joint CEO of The UK Sepsis Trust, said: “Current inefficiencies in the pathway for managing patients at risk of neutropenic sepsis contribute both to delays in life-saving intravenous antibiotics and unnecessary usage in patients who do not need them. Improving this pathway will not only enable us to save lives but also contribute to reducing the burden of antimicrobial resistance.”



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