Last month MediSieve received £1.56 million in funding from Innovate UK to further develop the use of their magnetic blood filtration technology with a focus on treating sepsis. Founder and CEO, Dr George Frodsham talks about pivotal moments in MediSieve’s journey and how it has benefitted from being positioned in the life sciences ecosystem of London and the Greater South East.
The aim of MediSieve is to directly remove infected cells, pathogens, toxins, or even viruses from a patient’s bloodstream. With first in-human clinical trials of the filter scheduled for later this year and further clinical trials planned to demonstrate its application to treat malaria, the company is going from strength to strength. Since it spun out from University College London in 2015, the MediSieve team has grown from one to ten, moved into office and laboratory space at the Imperial Translation and Innovation Hub (I-HUB) and received over £2 million in angel investment.
The MediSieve technology was developed by Founder and CEO, Dr George Frodsham during his PhD at UCL and further refined under an enterprise fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The company spun out from University College London in May 2015 and, in the first six months, it raised £350,000 of angel investment alongside receiving a £102,000 Pathfinder Award from the Wellcome Trust and an Innovate UK Smart Proof of Concept award worth £100,000.
“That first injection of funds allowed me to turn the PhD prototype of the filter into a real clinical product,” says Frodsham. “When we started the prototype was pretty much lego and duct tape and with the funds we turned it into a real clinical product that is biocompatible, sterilised, scaled up and can be integrated into existing systems.”
With the prototype in place, MediSieve conducted laboratory validation which culminated in animal safety trials. The patent was filed in the US and the next step was clinical trials which required a further injection of money. They launched a second round of investment and during this time became part of the Angels in MedCity programme.
“The training and pitching opportunities through Angels in MedCity were great and alongside this the exposure, networking opportunities and credibility that the programme provided were very valuable,” says Frodsham. “We closed the round in April 2018 with a total of £1.75 million of investment which meant we could grow the team.
“Going from one to two was a major step for me that felt terrifying at the time. Now we’re up to six and in the next weeks we’ll be ten. The other major step was moving to the I-HUB at the White City Campus of Imperial College London. Before this we were working in cafes and shared spaces and now we have our own office with our name on the door and our own laboratory equipment. I think the ecosystem they’ve created here is excellent and the move was just what we needed at our stage in development.”
Benefitting from the ecosystem
When asked about whether MediSieve has benefitted from being part of the larger life sciences ecosystem of London and the greater south-east, Frodsham is very clear. “One hundred per cent,” he says. “Everything is here: the hospitals and universities, the companies and the city, the patent attorneys and specialist lawyers. There is a wealth of conferences and investment events and it’s super easy to meet with potential investors. If an angel investor isn’t based in London, chances are that they are coming into London about once or twice a week. We’ve also got great connections to Oxford and Cambridge and being part of the Golden triangle holds a lot of strength.”
MediSieve has forged partnerships with hospitals and universities within the region, drawing on both research and clinical expertise. “We did our pre-clinical trials at Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research at St Mark’s Hospital and are doing our clinical trial at University College Hospital. We’ve also been working with a fantastic paediatric dialysis team at Great Ormond Street Hospital to gain some insight into how the technology could work with children. We’re working with haematologists and oncologists across the region who are really excited about MediSieve. Alongside this we also work with researchers from King’s College London, Imperial College London and University College London who have been very helpful in sharing their expertise and also providing support for grant applications by putting their names behind our technology. And all of them are an hour away at most.”
The keystone of MediSieve’s technology is its magnetic filter which is the focus of the first clinical trial. Funded by National Institute of Health Research, the clinical trial will be with ten healthy volunteers at University College Hospital and is planned for later this year. Once this has been done, the idea is to demonstrate the use of the filter to treat malaria.
“This is the one disease for which the filter can work by itself,” explains Frodsham. “Malaria infected cells have naturally occurring magnetic properties and can be directly removed by the filter. So that will be our first proof of application when we can show clinically that the filter can remove infected cells from malaria patients. Then we can move onto the potential use of the technology to treat sepsis and leukaemia.
“For sepsis we have just received the two Innovate UK grants worth £1.56 million which will help us to develop the technology to remove both the bacteria and the inflammatory cytokines that drive the immune response and ultimately cause death. To do this we are developing five magnetic particles that will bind to five different targets to remove the infection and control the immune response, all in one filtration. We want to take that into validation in animals in the next two years and then hopefully onto clinical trials.”
In his own words, Frodsham recognises that getting their first clinical trial in place for the filter was a challenge and took longer than they thought. “We originally planned to do the first trials at end of last year but the regulatory submission was a bigger challenge than we had anticipated and it was the first time we had done anything like this. There’s a lot of documentation and testing that has to be done by independent houses. Not to mention the clinical trials protocol for which every single detail has to be figured out. We’ve learnt a lot and we are now planning to have more expertise in this area within the team. One of the positions we’re currently hiring is full time regulatory position.”
Lessons learnt and advice
With its first clinical trial in the pipeline, MediSieve has already overcome a number of challenges and identified where it now needs to focus its activities. Frodsham is quite reflective on where they could have saved time, but also recognises the important lessons that they have learned and that they can use in the future.
“You always receive the advice that technical people like myself are often too focused on the product and don’t think enough about the market and commercialisation,” says Frodsham. “But I think in my case I actually swung too far in the other direction and that the key milestones for us were all technical and regulatory and building a team that could achieve these milestones. Of course the market is very important, and you have to have an understanding of your customers, but for us, if MediSieve can treat malaria, sepsis, leukaemia and ultimately other blood-borne diseases, then it will definitely have a market. In our case, I don’t need to sell the concept but I do need to sell the fact that it will actually work and that we’ve removed the clinical risk. Looking back, I think if I had focussed more on the technical development and not on the market then perhaps we would have been further down the line.”
“More generally, I think entrepreneurs are often beaten by themselves in terms of lack of confidence,” adds Frodsham. “We can be terrified of pitching because we might be embarrassed or terrified of asking for money because it’s awkward. All of those don’t need to be factors in your decision-making and when you meet with an investor you must be willing to talk about money. It’s the same with pitching: you have to believe that people will judge your ideas and not your style. Good science and proof are the most important aspect when you’re working in life sciences innovation, but you have to be comfortable talking to people and building up connections.”