How Converge Challenge helped a valuable new medical invention on its journey to market
The diagnosis and treatment of mental health is an increasing burden on the already stretched resources of healthcare providers, such as the NHS. In times of shrinking budgets and a rise of mental health problems any novel ideas to assist practitioners in the field are extremely important. With current standard practices, a patient presenting with symptoms that don’t meet narrowly-defined diagnostic criteria, may take as much as 10 years to be diagnosed, leading to a significantly decreased quality of life.
Saccade Diagnostics, a spinout from University of Aberdeen, has devised a rapid eye-movement test that can help medical professionals diagnose a range of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression within just 30 minutes. The patent-pending test has the advantage not just of speed but also of accurate and objective results. It is non-invasive, cheap and easy to administer and non-specialists will be able to use it after minimal training. The test will assist routine, early, point-of-care diagnosis and clinical management of patients, and reduce the burden of disease on the individual, the healthcare system and the wider economy.
The inventors, Dr Philip Benson and Professor David St Clair, teamed up with commercial champion Mr Madhu Nair, who took on the role of CEO bringing on board his experience in developing early stage technology driven ventures in the UK and USA. Together they rose to the Challenge in 2013 and ended up winning the top prize of £35,000 in cash as well as additional extensive in-kind business support.
Asked why they entered Converge Challenge, Madhu explains: “We needed to raise seed funding so the chance of winning some cash was a huge incentive for us. The £35,000 top prize offered by Converge Challenge was a perfect match to try and leverage a further £100,000 from SMART: Scotland Feasibility. There was of course no guarantee in winning anything but the competition involved a rigorous due diligence process, business training and networking opportunities which made the programme very worthwhile.”
The award package also included support in-kind from sponsors who helped them with all aspects of setting up their spin out company including contracts, tax, intellectual property, branding and business management.
The team have since gone on to win other competitions and are in the process of securing further funding. They are currently running a SMART: Scotland Feasibility project working with leading R&D teams to develop a demonstrator for pioneering end users. They also have large-scale multi-centre clinical studies in the pipeline to further validate their test and gain regulatory market clearance. Early versions of their product have been successfully deployed for use in mental health research in Denmark and China. Ultimately the plan is to market the test for use in primary care settings worldwide where most mental health complaints are first assessed and managed.
Encouraging potential Converge Challenge applicants, Madhu states: “Converge Challenge provided us with an incredible opportunity to stress test our business plan at the right time on our spin out journey, develop entrepreneurial thinking and benefit from support provided at various stages of the programme.”