Sensoreal – 6 October
Sensoreal developed a rapid, point-of-care blood test for the Canadian Space Agency. In May 2019, their work was successfully commissioned by astronaut Dr. David Saint-Jacques at the International Space Station, making Canada the first country to perform blood tests in space (more info). Sensoreal wants to use their technology to not only help astronauts but also to help people here on earth! They have a unique microfluidic technology to miniaturize and automate common wet-lab procedures. The tests are inexpensive, disposable plastic cards that are paired with a simple optical analyzer connected to a tablet or laptop.
In collaboration with Health Canada, Sensoreal is currently in the process of developing a prototype to differentiate bacterial vs. viral respiratory infections in less than 15 minutes, using only a finger prick of blood and using a integrated sensor that connects the chip directly to a tablet or laptop. Their solution will help physicians to reduce antibiotic overprescription. They are targeting a +$3Bn worldwide market with rapid growth due to increasing antibiotic resistance, which has been highlighted as a “global crisis” by the WHO and is expected to kill more than 10M people each year by 2050.
Currently, there are no competitor products in the market. Although there are a few startups around the world who are trying to develop similar solutions, including MeMed, AgPlus, and Lumos Diagnostics, they all commonly face technical challenges in terms of the dynamic range and sensitivity of their assays. Sensoreal’s platform has a demonstrated dynamic range of 0.2 – 2,000 ng/ml with sensitivity below 0.2 ng/ml. Other companies often attempt to overcome assay limitations by relying on complex fluid handling and/or optical systems that significantly increase both upfront and operating costs, as well as the need for specialized reagents, maintenance, and training. In contrast, Sensoreal’s unique technology is completely self-contained and self-powered, meaning that no peripheral equipment is necessary. The tests Sensoreal developed for use on the International Space Station are designed for ultra-low resource settings, making them well-suited to outpatient settings, such as GP offices, walk-in clinics, or public health centers. In short, Sensoreal’s technology works in the palm of your doctor’s hand!
When COVID-19 disrupted their business, Sensoreal rose to the challenge. Over the last 6 months, they have initiated new partnerships, secured non-dilutive funding, and grew their team. Being a company already focused on respiratory infections, it wasn’t a huge stretch to begin the development of COVID-19 antibody tests (currently under Health Canada review) and antigen tests (in development) with a new partner in Austria; and thanks to the support of Programme Innovation (provincial government) and IRAP (federal government). Despite the pandemic, Sensoreal is continuing phase 1 of their Health Canada Innovative Solutions project to validate a novel biomarker panel and build an MVP to rule-out bacterial causes of infection. They are proud to partner with a company in Sweden with expertise in the use of these biomarkers to differentiate infections in a lab setting, in order to further their goal of bringing this technology to the outpatient setting. In order to manage these new avenues of business, they have recruited two new employees who specialize in biochemistry and business development, growing their team of 4 to 6 people.
Sensoreal’s biggest hurdles to overcome in the following year include:
Challenge 1: Clinical milestones and partnerships, specifically designing and executing a large-scale clinical trial with a diverse patient population to indicate no adverse effects from withholding antibiotics.
They plan to meet this challenge by focusing on their end-users every step of the way – doctors, nurses, and public health officials. By involving end-users in the initial stages of the project, they are identifying their early adopters. Sensoreal is also designing with end-users in mind, ensuring that the test fits comfortably into their workflow. Over the past year, Sensoreal conducted interviews with over 30 primary care professionals using the principles of the Mom Test. By asking about users’ problems, challenges, and irritations, Sensoreal has guaranteed that their test will stand apart from the competition, not only from a technical standpoint but also from the user’s perspective. Almost every doctor and nurse they have spoken to has expressed interest in testing Sensoreal’s device in their own practice. This gives the company a pool of key opinion leaders, clinical partners, and patient recruiters to draw upon when it comes time to put their product to the test.
Challenge 2: Secure funding for business development initiatives for the next 2 years.
To make sure that the company is ready to raise their series A within the next 12 months, Sensoreal has spent the last year participating in a number of accelerator programs – Creative Destruction Lab (Toronto), BAJ Accelerator (New York), District 3 (Montreal), and NEXT Founders (Toronto). Sensoreal counts themselves lucky to have worked with a number of world-class entrepreneur mentors via these programs. As well, the company has recently begun building a board of advisors composed of industry leaders in business development, diagnostics, healthcare innovation, and general practice.
Roozbeh Safavieh, CEO & Founder, PhD McGill University – Biomedical Engineering
Alessandra Robillard, COO, Bachelors McGill University – Mechanical Engineering
Kate Turner, CTO, Masters McGill University – Biomedical Engineering
Pooya Saberi, CPO, Masters McGill University – Mechanical Engineering
Ali Motahari, Assay Lead, Masters Queen’s University – Biochemistry
Agnieszka Skalecka, Business Lead, PhD from International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
Dr. Safavieh holds a doctorate in biomedical engineering and has over 10 years of experience in the development of various microfluidic systems. He specializes in passive capillary microfluidic designs, holding two patents on new microfluidic functions and a third on polymer coatings for passive microfluidics. He founded Sensoreal in 2013 and partnered with the Canadian Space Agency, and Honeywell Aerospace to provide medical monitoring tools for the International Space Station. The product was successfully launched and tested at the International Space Station in May of 2019 (more info).
Following their expansion initiatives and rapid growth trajectory, Sensoreal is currently in the process of raising their series A of $5M within the next 8-12 months. The money raised will help them to accelerate their growth, as they plan to carry out two large clinical trials and scale-up their manufacturing process.
So far, the company has bootstrapped through contracts and grants ($2.7 M contracts, $2.1 M grants) with various organizations including Honeywell Aerospace, CSA, CFIA, and Health Canada.
Recently, the company onboarded a biochemist and business development specialist. Looking ahead, they are eager to continue building their business development and sales team as their first COVID-19 test is approaching the market. Sensoreal is also aiming to expand their engineering team after they raise more capital by the end of summer 2021 and are ready to scale up their manufacturing process.
Sensoreal is planning to generate revenue by direct sales and through distribution partners for their bacterial rule-out test. Their goal is to produce 10k tests by the end of 2021 for clinical and research purposes, and gradually increase the production capacity to 150k tests per month by 2021. They aim to sell over 1M tests and generate more than $10M revenue by 2025.
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