Company of the Month – Neurofenix
Neurofenix’s first product – NeuroBallTM – is transforming neurological rehabilitation. The company, formed in 2016, came from a deep desire in its co-founders to make a difference to the lives of patients who had survived a stroke, brain injury or spinal cord accident. And that passion is infectious. They’ve just closed a Series A investment round, successfully raising $7 million, and are in the midst of an expansion into the US. We spoke to co-founder and CEO Guillem Singla Buxarrais about Neurofenix’s story so far.
A personal mission
The deep desire in both co-founders to make a difference to neurological injury patients came from personal family experiences. Guillem’s uncle had a stroke over ten years ago, and co-founder Dimitrios Athanasiou (CTO) had witnessed the devastation of his grandfather’s stroke.
“I became extremely passionate about how I can make a difference in neurological injury patients’ lives, because I know how devastating it is, not only to the patient, but also the family surrounding them.”
When the pair met at Imperial College, this shared passion converged with the perfect skill set to act on creating a solution. Guillem, a Biomedical Engineer, was completing a Masters in Neurotechnology, and Dimitrios, a Mechanical Engineer, was specialising in Biomechanics.
The gap in neuro care
The problem Guillem and Dimitrios set out to solve, was the gap they saw between what the evidence shows patients need, and the reality of the treatment most patients receive:
“The key for neurological recovery is neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to rewire after an injury. And there’s evidence clearly showing that patients need to do a lot of high intensity repetitive movements to trigger this neuroplasticity for recovery. Unfortunately, the current healthcare systems really struggle to deliver this high intensity care.”
In the UK, there are more than 100,000 strokes every year, which the Stroke Association has estimated costs the NHS almost £26 billion per year. Despite this level of spending, according to Guillem, that gap in availability of high intensity therapy means the majority of patients do not fully recover after a stroke. As well as cognitive and speech problems, many survivors can be left with long-term weakness and paralysis of limbs, and difficulty gripping objects and co-ordinating movement.
“Currently, rehabilitation is very much focused on face-to-face interactions with a therapist. That might start in an acute unit or a stroke unit, and then a patient may be enrolled for early support discharge. This gives them a very limited amount of therapy at home – let’s say a few sessions per week, for a few weeks. But what does the patient do the rest of the time? Our vision was to fill those gaps, and help patients recover at home.”
The first solution Neurofenix has developed is the NeuroBall – a device and accompanying digital platform that supports rehabilitation therapy for upper extremities. With close to 80% of stroke patients suffering upper limb impairment, this was the first priority for the team. The ball is a lightweight device with advanced sensors that detect tiny movements. The platform features engaging activities and games that are personalised to the individual patient, and encourage increasingly challenging repetitive movements.
“The key aspect is our unique personalization engine algorithm. When a patient starts using our platform, it learns from them and it gives them specific challenges. If a patient has a very limited movement, and they can only move their wrist a few degrees, we will measure that and then all the activities within our platform will be adapted to their specific level of movement.”
The activities, as well as being personalised, are all geared towards encouraging patients to engage as much as possible and push themselves to the next level. Gamification is a key aspect, with live leaderboards that also allow patients to connect and create a community.
Telehealth services are also built into the platform. As an all-in-one at-home therapy programme, patients can be assessed by a therapist remotely when they begin treatment. The therapist can then monitor progress and check in with the patient remotely, ensuring therapy is aligned to the patient’s goals, while maximising the use of trained therapists’ time.
A focus on evidence
Guillem says they have an ambition to “be the platform with the most clinical evidence in the world”. With this in mind, they have so far collaborated with Brunel University on three clinical trials. The first tested usability of the NeuroBall in hospital, and the second tested usability at home – both with very positive results. The latest trial – named RHOMBUS II – was the result of Neurofenix’s involvement in MedCity’s Collaborate to Innovate Stroke Association collaboration. It looked at the use of the Neuroball as a tool for NHS stroke units and early support discharge teams, in an integrated care pathway from hospital to home. The team will present the abstract for this research at the UK Stroke Forum in November this year.
“Partnerships like this have been really important to us from day one. Working with Brunel’s leading researchers to build the evidence base; the Stroke Association, who are the largest charity in the UK for stroke; and MedCity, who facilitated and vetted companies to make sure the best companies received funding for research… All of this, ultimately leads us to be able to iterate our platform and constantly improve the difference we can make to patients’ lives”
As well as improvements to their platform, the team’s commitment to building their evidence base has also helped them successfully raise investment. They’ve recently closed a Series A investment round, raising $7 million. The round was led by AlbionVC, with participation from HTH and InHealth Ventures, as well as other minority investors.
With this cash injection, the plan is to focus on collecting more clinical evidence, developing more therapeutic content for their platform, and, of course, marketing of the product.
Commercialising and the US
Private and institutional settings have adopted use of the NeuroBall and the team hopes this will grow as they grow their evidence base. But, when it comes to generating revenue, the focus now is on the US, where sales started about a year ago.
NeuroBall is already available privately in the UK and US under a subscription model, with the US market being the prime focus over the last year. So much so that Guillem has recently relocated from London to New York to oversee the rapid growth of their US team.
“Our HQ is in London, along with half our team, so we maintain a strong presence in the UK, especially when it comes to research and development (R&D), which London is known and respected for. When it comes to our commercial focus though, the US is our main target market at the moment. We know it’s a larger market in terms of population, but is also a priority due to the social determinants of health that typically cause higher stroke rates.”
When it comes to Guillem’s relocation, he describes it as a “no brainer”:
“Being here on the ground has been really important. It’s so valuable being in the market that you’re focused on expanding. I’m here interviewing the best candidates as we grow the team rapidly (by more than 50% so far in 2022). For anyone looking to expand into a new territory, that would be one of my key pieces of advice: to hire really experienced leaders in sales and marketing, who have strong knowledge of the market. Attracting the best talent is always the key challenge, but we believe we’re doing that by inspiring them with our vision and passion to help heal patients so they can golf, cook, dress, work, shower and return to their other activities of daily living.”