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PneumoWave – turning an idea into a viable reality

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21 February 2023

A ’10 years’ of CENSIS case study

In January 2023, digital health company PneumoWave announced the closing of £7.5 m Series A financing to enable clinical validation and regulatory submission of its biosensor technology platform for remote wireless diagnosing and monitoring of respiratory changes in high-risk patient groups. Read our case study about the company’s origins story, and the ways in which CENSIS provided support.  

Not every seemingly good concept an entrepreneur comes up with translates into a viable business. But, often enough, there is a kernel of an idea worth pursuing in a different way. So, it was the case with PneumoWave and its founder Dr Bruce Henderson, who CENSIS initially supported back in 2017.

Dr Henderson was first in touch with CENSIS through one of his previous companies, Angel Monitors. The start-up was part of the innovation centre’s IoT Explorer programme, which was set up to accelerate businesses’ adoption of Internet of Things technologies with 20 days’ support from CENSIS’s engineering and project management teams.

Sensing an opportunity

Angel Monitors wanted to develop sensing technology that would help the police monitor the health of detainees while under arrest. Any medication or medical support given to people in custody – even if they are only being held overnight – has to be administered by a trained medical professional, eating up valuable time for police staff and doctors during already stretched periods.

The technology could also be used by non-medically trained police staff to monitor the health of people in custody, alerting them to any serious changes. Figures from 2021 indicate there were 122 deaths in police custody in Scotland during the previous seven years.

However, after a series of trials that also included expertise from the University of Glasgow, it was determined that the idea would may  work to the standard required of a clinical grade application. So, working with the CENSIS team, the concept was re-worked for a potential new use and PneumoWave was born.

Refining the idea to address an epidemic

Every year, there are an estimated 75,000 deaths in the USA and UK related to overdoses of opioids. While the drugs provide pain relief to those who need it, if misused they also  switch off the parts of the brain that control breathing. The point at which this happens is unpredictable and differs between individuals, making the drugs potentially dangerous even when prescribed and used as advised.

Working with CENSIS, Dr Henderson was able to identify cost-effective sensing technology that could be used in a novel way to address this challenge. Together, they created an initial proof of concept device that monitors respiratory function.

The research led to the submission of a bid – with further support from the innovation centre – to Innovate UK’s Biomedical Catalyst programme. PneumoWave was subsequently awarded £125,000 of funding for a feasibility study, allowing the digital health start-up to hire data scientists to build the algorithms behind the device.

“I’m not sure we would be where we are if CENSIS didn’t exist. I could easily see a scenario where we wouldn’t have received Innovate UK funding without CENSIS’s support – the innovation centre was pivotal to our application’s success.” – Dr Bruce Henderson

On the crest of a PneumoWave

Now, PneumoWave has completed a £7.5 million investment round, including funding from the Scottish National Investment Bank. This followed on from a £2.25 million pre-Series A round in March 2021, taking total investment in the company so far to nearly £10 million.

True to its Scottish roots, all of the research and development work undertaken by PneumoWave so far has been undertaken here, creating 20 jobs in Scotland – and another three in the USA.

Although still a year or two away from being available as a regulated product, PneumoWave holds a UK patent for its chest-worn technology  and  their patent application is progressing in the USA. The digital health start-up has partnerships in place with the National Addiction Centre at King’s College, London; NHS Tayside; and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Clinical trials are already underway in the UK and Australia, with plans for the USA to follow in 2024 after receiving designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Breakthrough Devices programme in 2020.

The PneumoWave team is now looking at how the device – and further iterations of it – can be used to help people with other respiratory diseases, including increasingly common chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Dr Bruce Henderson said: “When you have an idea for a business, you start off with a blue sky scenario. But, then reality kicks in and you realise the first vision of what you are doing isn’t going to happen. That doesn’t mean it is the wrong thing to do – you will find something within it, the trick is to keep going.

“So, we pivoted away from the initial plan and asked what was achievable and feasible with the existing technology. With support from organisations like CENSIS, you can see others who have gone down the same path and achieved great things.”

Stephen Milne, director of strategic projects at CENSIS, said: “CENSIS isn’t a commercial entity – we’re here to support entrepreneurs and start-ups through the complex journey that comes with turning ideas into reality. That means offering a wide range of support services, whether it is finding the right sensor to use for a device or making the introductions to other people with the right expertise.

“In Dr Bruce Henderson’s case, we could see there was a good idea – even if the first application of it wasn’t right. We are delighted to have helped him navigate the initial stages of developing a viable product, winning funding, and finding the right people to support his work, which over time has turned into an exciting company that can help solve a serious health challenge, attracting millions of pounds in funding in the process.”