Life Sciences & Healthcare winner and runners-up

OVERALL WINNER

PMD Solutions
The overall winner of the Irish Times Innovation Award for 2022 is PMD Solutions. The company took the top award in the Life Sciences & Healthcare category for RespiraSense, a continuous, motion-tolerant respiratory monitoring device that can detect a change in a patient’s breathing before it becomes a problem. The technology came into its own during the Covid-19 pandemic as it allows for remote monitoring of groups of hospital patients without the need for individual contact by hard-pressed health service staff.

The PMD story began back in 2009 while founder Myles Murray was still in college studying mechanical engineering at Cork Institute of Technology. “I was always involved in innovation, and during my work placement I got in touch with an emergency consultant, who told me about the challenge presented by patients with unstable respiratory rates,” he says. “They are at risk of becoming very ill very quickly but there was no reliable way to monitor their respiration.”

Murray took on that challenge as part of his final-year college project. “The global standard was and still is visually counting the patient’s chest moving up and down,” he says. “Any movement like walking, eating, talking or shifting in bed results in failure of other systems. Every technology that claims to measure the respiratory rate works if the patient is unconscious and not moving in bed.”

That is a serious problem given the prognostic importance of the respiratory rate. “How fast or slow you breathe is the single best indication of a patient getting better or deteriorating,” he says. “The average rate is 12-20 breaths per minute, but an individual’s natural rate could be 23. That number is not very important – what matters most is the change in the number.

“It directly measures the movements of the patient’s chest and belly, and the technology constantly cross-checks to establish if the signals are bad or good”

“Our technology can give an indication of a change in the patient’s condition 12 hours ahead of time,” he says. “Anything less than four hours isn’t useful in a busy emergency department or ward. It doesn’t allow enough time to get to the patient and decide on the right treatment to stabilise them. We give them three times that amount of time and enable clinical teams deliver the right care to the right patients at the right time. The ability to monitor patients continuously is what sets us apart.”

The noninvasive device collects data, stores it, processes it and transmits it via Bluetooth to hospital or other systems, where it can be used by healthcare staff to remotely monitor patients.

“How it works is unique,” says Murray. “It is very easy to use and sits on the side of the patient’s chest, where the ribcage crowns. It directly measures the movements of the patient’s chest and belly, and the technology constantly cross-checks to establish if the signals are bad or good. It’s the combination of those two that makes it work.”

This is the third generation of the product, he adds. “We have enhanced its usability at every iteration. We are now working on the fourth-generation product. We are working with the European Space Agency to put a sim card into it. That will enable us to put it into the community without worrying about connectivity. We hope to launch that on to the market in the third quarter of this year.”

The Covid pandemic has accelerated progress for the company. “The pandemic initially prevented us from entering overseas markets. But it opened up the Irish market for us and in just nine months we went from not having our technology in any Irish hospital to having it in every hospital. It has also led to the funding of digital health teams around the world. There has been a paradigm shift, and our goal for the next 12 months is to get into European countries and then expand out beyond that. As an early-stage company, we have to be careful not to overreach ourselves. What we do, we have to do well and then take the next step forward.”

Winning the 2022 Irish Times Innovation Award will help with that. “We are transforming an industry. We are working hard at building awareness as a thought leader in that space, and winning the award will support that. It will also provide a great morale boost for our fantastic team, who have been working with hard-pressed clinicians in our health service over the past two years. This award is recognition for all their hard work.”

RUNNERS-UP

Salaso Health Solutions
Tralee-based Salaso Health Solutions has developed a digital health platform that enables physiotherapists and other health professionals to prescribe evidence-based exercise programmes for the treatment and prevention of a wide range of conditions and injuries.

The company, founded by chartered physiotherapist Aoife Ní Mhuirí, is changing the nature of how rehabilitative care is delivered to people recovering from musculoskeletal injuries and illness.

Salaso is an online, mobile application used by healthcare providers and clinicians. It educates and supports patients in performing prescribed exercises, whether as an inpatient in hospital or outside of the clinical setting in their homes or even at work.

The platform hosts more than 2,000 evidence-based videos and researched exercise protocols that are beneficial for a variety of injuries, conditions and disease states.

Salaso enables healthcare providers to increase the capacity of physical rehabilitation services and implement a holistic model of patient care. Every patient has access to a personalised exercise programme designed to enhance recovery and improve health and wellbeing.

And those programmes cover everyone from elite athletes recovering from injury to people dealing with ongoing chronic painful conditions, and those recovering from an operation such as a hip replacement.

Salaso Health Solutions is the first company to take a global, holistic approach to exercise prescription across the care continuum

According to Ní Mhuirí the innovative solution breaks with convention by bringing a “formulary for exercise” to all clinical providers, effectively enabling them to safely prescribe evidence-based exercise programmes for multiple conditions and diseases.

As things stand, only a small number of people can benefit from existing services provided by physiotherapists or exercise physiologists. Salaso Health Solutions is the first company to take a global, holistic approach to exercise prescription across the care continuum, and its personalised self-management care plans are constructed based on complex algorithms that tailor the exercises to match the disease state, injury and functional status of the individual.

The company also offers the Salaso Recovery Plan, which provides an online health assessment for employees with an ache, pain or musculoskeletal injury. The plan will either suggest the appropriate care setting for treatment or provide an exercise programme to self-manage recovery.

Prevention is also part of the package and the Salaso Prevention Plan is an online wellbeing resource that delivers job specific and personalised exercise programmes for injury prevention.

Smart Reactors
Smart Reactors is a medical device research and development company based in Galway, Ireland, established in 2019. The company has developed a new hemocompatible coating for medical devices that will reduce significantly the potential for reactions such as inflammation and blood coagulation when a device is implanted into a patient.

Medical devices such as stents and heart valves are made from a wide range of plastics, metals and alloys that have excellent mechanical and physical properties but have variable hemocompatibility and when in contact with blood can lead to a pathophysiological reaction similar to traumatic shock. Minimisation of the activation mechanisms caused by the surfaces used in blood contacting medical devices has been a top priority for many years.

The standard solution for more than 30 years has been a heparin coating, but new surface treatments that don’t use heparin and are not regarded as pharmacologically active are becoming the physicians’ preference.

The long-term aim of the medical device industry has been to create an optimal biocompatible surface that is not recognised as “non-physiological” by the blood and thus does not provoke any pathological activation of the humoral and cellular defence mechanisms.

The company has already signed a licensing agreement with a leading perfusion company in
Europe to commercialise the technology

Smart Reactors has developed a proprietary passive surface coating technology that meets this objective. The Smart Reactors coating incorporates a physiological component present in blood and is therefore not recognised as a foreign body.

In-vitro testing to date has demonstrated very encouraging data, according to Smart Reactors chief executive and co-founder Brian Haddigan, who founded the company with chief technology officer Mark Brassil in 2019. Between them they have more than 40 years’ experience in medical devices.

“Our technology has been shown to be superior to both the heparin and heparin-free coatings currently on the market, but in addition we have focused on creating as much value by design as possible by producing a coating that is significantly less expensive to manufacture and can easily be scaled for growth,” adds Haddigan.

The company has already signed a licensing agreement with a leading perfusion company in Europe to commercialise the technology, while the development of a portfolio of next-generation coating products is already under way.


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