Founded in November 2019 by Dr Susan Kelly (CEO), Prof Jim Harkin (CTO), Head of School of Computing, Engineering Intelligent Systems (SCEIS) at Ulster University and Prof Liam McDaid (R&D), Head of R&D at the SCEIS, Respiratory Analytics develops deep technology that helps people with asthma and COPD to take their inhaled medicines correctly.
Data shows that 86.6% patients make at least one error when they use their inhalers and a significant association exists between inhaler errors, poor disease outcomes, asthma attacks and greater health costs.
Susan has a personal interest in fixing this problem: ‘With family members who have asthma I understand the impact this condition has on daily life and how frightening an asthma attack can be. Using an inhaler is vital in controlling asthma symptoms but is a complicated process, requiring a co-ordinated set of actions that’s easy to get wrong, even for patients who use these inhalers for years. While lots of technology already exists to remind patients to use their inhalers, incorrect technique is a neglected area that needed to be addressed. Covid accelerated the need by adding lots of new inhaler users with limited NHS capacity to train patients to use their inhalers correctly.’
‘With the help of patients and clinicians our team developed a highly innovative digital platform, aflo™, incorporating a data capture device (built to medical device standards), user App, clinician portal, and data analytics tool to address this need. aflo™ takes patients through each step of correct inhaler technique, every time they use their inhaler, with real-time feedback and AI driven data analytics to support better self-management and remote clinician monitoring.’
Based in Derry/Londonderry, Respiratory Analytics has raised private funds via angel investors, Innovation Ulster, Invest NI, British Business Bank and Clarendon Fund Managers and won two highly competitive Innovate UK Smart grants, each for a £500,000 R&D project, and a TechStartNI Concept Plus award. The company was spun into Ulster University and a 100 patient randomised controlled trial is underway. Susan was delighted earlier this year to win a £50,000 Women in Innovation award from Innovate UK which is supporting a pilot study exploring the potential for aflo™ to reduce the carbon impact of Metered Dose Inhalers by correcting inhaler technique.
This year the Respiratory Analytics team has achieved other highly significant milestones with a UK patent granted and approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for the aflo™ clinical trial. Most recently, and reflecting commercialisation proximity, the team won a place on the QUB/ Ulster University/MIT REAP Deep Tech Accelerator, closely followed by winning a spot on the Innovate UK Edge highly competitive MedTech and Diagnostics Global Business Innovation Programme (GBIP) to Ireland. Discussions are underway with potential corporate partners who have the same mission driven ethos.
Susan commented ‘Building medical device hardware and delivering deep data insights is a long and challenging process, with tough safety/regulatory hurdles, requiring high levels of expertise and funding. In less than three years we’ve raised R&D funds and built unique technology with the potential to improve the lives of those with asthma and COPD, and we’re only getting started. As CEO, I bring valuable market access experience from working in pharma and consultancy, but in a startup you’re stretched every single day. I’ve had to skill up on industrial design, electronics, software, patents, user interfaces, user design, regulatory rules, manufacturing, investment, grant application writing, to name just a few. Every day is challenging, but never dull.
The team is looking forward to showing the exceptional patient centred functionality of aflo™ at the upcoming Investor Summit and Catalyst Inbound Investor events in Belfast, on the 13th and 14th of September, to help secure funding to expand the team in readiness for commercialisation, US/FDA regulatory work and other trials.
‘We are just at the start with aflo™, with new products and functionality in the pipeline. We want to create high quality jobs and expand the regional and national Life and Health Science ecosystem and doing that with a base in our local community – which also has some of the worst statistics for asthma A&E visits and hospital admissions in the UK – is baked into our ‘tech for good’ DNA.’
Achieving our very tough milestones gives the team great satisfaction and personal reward – getting inhaler technique right is better for patients, doctors, carers and the planet. And that’s our goal.