Every year, between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the world sustain a spinal cord injury (SCI).
Four industry figureheads came together last week to address this challenge in our exclusive roundtable.
Catch up now on YouTube or read on for our highlights from the debate.
Andy Dolan – Vice President of Marketing, ONWARD
Lindsay Hartland – Founder and CEO, Hanison Green
Dr Lior Shaltiel – CEO, NurExone Biologic
Dr Marco Baptista – CSO, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
Alastair MacColl – Chair of Court, University of the Highlands and Islands/Chair, Umi (Chair)
Alastair by asking the panel, what are your organisation’s priorities? And what are the big issues that require attention?
Marco and Lior agreed that no single company or group would overcome the paralysis challenge.
Companies, academia and non-profits need to come together to take on this incredibly complex challenge.
A major part of this process is to ensure that data sees the light of day and is published and shared for the greater good.
“We want to make sure that people are not spinning their wheels, especially if data has already been generated. The data should be open and accessible.”
“Coming together will help us to bring an end to paralysis sooner than if we go it alone.”
Lindsay thinks that the industry may have a problem with collaboration and information sharing as many startups are private companies.
This is an insular model, with businesses often led by CEOs that have very little experience of bringing research through into the commercial world.
A knock on effect of this is a lack of awareness of SCI innovation in wider society.
“There’s so much stuff being worked on in the background. We need to hear more about it.”
While this has historically been part of the challenge, Marco believes things are changing for the better.
“More and more people are getting attracted to this type of research and they’re seeing a lot of progress happening. That’s very exciting.”
Andy agreed that there appears to be a positive shift emerging, citing the example of ONWARD’s listing.
That in an of itself shows progress, as companies raising capital for SCI is a new phenomenon.
Alastair asked, what does the commercialisation process look like and are there ways to speed up the process?
There’s no way to cut corners, Andy said.
Patients want well-researched, well-studied, quality devices that can be safely used in the home.
However, there is a sense of urgency driven by the fact that 18,000 people in the US alone sustain an SCI every year.
“People have been saying for a decade or more, ‘there’s great research, and maybe someday it’ll be out there.’
“So we’re very sensitive of not over-promising to a community that that is living the disease every day and needs a solution ASAP.”
Marco offered his perspective:
“While there are clear steps that need to be taken to get regulatory approval, there are many ways that we can still try to accelerate it.
“If you have access to a lot of data registries, you make a trial more efficient by having a control group based on your digital data.
“I’ve seen this in other fields, and I’m sure it can be done also with SCI.”
Alastair asked, is there resistance because the medical community doesn’t keep pace with research and innovation?
Andy said that research is going to continue and will feed innovation. However, the SCI community has historically been underserved by the industry.
A clinical trial might impact 10 or 15 people, but this needs to be translated into the clinic so the wider community can reap the benefits.
“If the technology is good enough, clinicians will come on board and promote it. They will be your champions.”
Is investment as available as it should be? And does it support the kind of developments that the SEI community wants to see and as quickly as required?
Lior noted that North American VC will not invest in treatments that will serve fewer than 50,000 people.
The only thing in the industry’s hands is to become public.
“When that happens, everything is transparent. You can call your bank or even go to your app and invest. If it’s good, it’s good.
“That will drive innovation in the company and the wider sector.”
Marco said that listed companies have a responsibility to create an environment where the next players can establish themselves and make their mark.
Alastair asked, what exactly are investors looking for?
Lindsay said that investors with look closely at a company’s infrastructure, the individual players and the data before deciding to invest.
In his experience, early-stage startups can ‘get a little bit giddy’ and overreach, going after five or six indications straight away.
He believes that startups should focus on delivering a clear message and demonstrating that the understand the milestones along the way.
Not all CEOs are necessarily prepared to take on this critical role.
“You have to be a salesperson, because you’re the face of the company, you’re always in front of investors.
“A lot of CEOs now are coming out of academia. So they’re first time CEOs, where they’ve created the concept while in academia, and now they’re trying to develop a startup.
“It’s so important that these startups surround themselves with the right experts, from clinical and regulatory to commercial.”
Bringing things to a close, Alastair asked each of the panellists their priorities for the year ahead.
Marco reiterated the importance of collaboration, with companies sharing data to provide greater insight on how we move forward.
“I think consortiums can be built around topics that would be a win-win if everyone participated.
“There can be this pre competitive space where we work together to accelerate research in SCI, and I think the Reeve Foundation is in a perfect position to be a neutral convener for them.”
Lindsay believes that the next couple of years will be critical for SCI and there’s a huge opportunity to raise awareness.
“ONWARD will hopefully play a big part in that with the partnership with the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
“Commercialising the first product will be a huge milestone for med tech.”
Lior hopes the we start to see how progress by addressing the holistic challenge of SCI, rather than focusing on the ‘holy grail’ of restoring motor function.
“Any improvement for these patients is a miracle, not just walking, so we need to be also modest.
“From that, I’m sure that we’ll see a lot of success in this field and it won’t be seen as the ‘graveyard of neurobiology’ anymore. It’s our responsibility.”
Andy wrapped things up by calling for all stakeholders to come together to take on the challenge, from advocacy groups and researchers to governments, startups and policy-makers.
“An industry or company going for coverage is a singular voice that only has so much effect.
“It really has to be the combined industry partners, the advocacy, the research going together, to vouch for their populations.”
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