This is an exciting time for our company, Oxford Enhanced Medical (OxEML). We have developed a scanner, using advanced medical imaging technology that’s set to transform people’s lives because there’s a good chance we can make it affordable and accessible for all. That even means people in less developed countries.
Our new technology creates images comparable to MRI and CT scans but it’s much cheaper, and more in line with the cost of an ultrasound scan. As CEO it’s my role to keep the company on track and create and maximise every opportunity, so that the business and the product becomes a success. OxEML was founded in 2015 after the technology that we use in our product was developed and spun out of the University of Oxford. We have overcome a number of challenges along the way and I am always on the look-out for support that might help us get through those bumps in the road.
Some of the most useful support that we have received so far is from the Barclay’s Eagle Labs, Northern Stars programme. In December 2019, I went on an Eagle Labs trade mission, to the San Francisco Bay area. It was a really valuable experience. We were provided with an in-depth and down to earth view into how start up investment works from investors and successful entrepreneurs from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, who were knowledgeable, approachable and useful to meet. We were also provided with an excellent business development toolkit and had the opportunity to access a network of VCs, investors and companies. The valuable contacts that we made during the mission are already helping us to move forward.
OxEML has a worldwide mission, to make our new type of medical imaging scanner accessible to all. We believe that medical imaging procedures should be available and affordable to everybody, including people living in less developed economies. Our vision is to improve lives around the world by transforming the way that doctors make a diagnosis.
Our product is mobile and enables people to be diagnosed outside of an MRI or CT machine. It makes having a scan that could be looking for issues like a tendon injury and lumps or cysts in the breast or liver, quicker, safer and more comfortable for patients.
Instead of having to lie down in a narrow tube inside an MRI machine after queuing for weeks, patients can take part in a consultation with a specialist and have tests that produce the same quality of image while sitting in a chair. Doctors are also able to look at high-quality and reliable images that help them to make the best decisions.
Our product will dramatically reduce the cost of medical imaging testing in hospitals. In fact, doctors may not need to send their patients to specialists for diagnostic tests at all because our product could be used at the point of care, in their surgeries. It’s also safer than MRI or CT scans because it enables doctors to avoid exposing patients to strong magnetic fields or doses of radiation.
Inventing new technology that’s never been seen before and taking it to market is not an easy job and can take a lot of time and effort. Nine years before OxEML was established in 2015, a team of scientists at Oxford University, led by our founder Professor David Edwards, then Chairman of the Faculty of Engineering Science, developed new technology that they knew was set to send ripples through the medical imaging and diagnostics world. Professor Edwards is still closely involved with OxEML, working as our Chief Technology Officer.
In 2006, the Oxford team developed a technique called Electro Magnetic Acoustics (EMA). This uses a combination of radio signals and ultrasound to effectively wobble very small volumes of tissue. The radio signals illuminate the area of concern and show the difference between different types of tissue. Ultrasound alone, cannot do this. The technique enables doctors to see problem areas of the body and can identify the accumulation of fluid, calcification and other tissue differences.
As soon as EMA was developed the team at Oxford applied for core patents across the world to ensure that no one else could copy the technology and develop it. The next step was to create lab prototypes and test them followed by further clinical (in-vitro and in-vivo) tests to prove that the technique was effective and safe. By the time OxEML was spun out of the University in 2015, all 25 core patents on the EMA technology had been granted worldwide and the company started to demonstrate that it could easily be embedded into commercial ultrasound scanners.
OxEML has not come this far without cash injections. The University of Oxford provided seed funding and a number of institutional and private investors provided more than £2 million.
One of the biggest hurdles for many medical technology companies, OxEML being no exception, is gaining safety approvals in the country where the product will be used. Over the next few years, we plan to reduce the amount of time it will takes to get to market by partnering with ultrasound companies and embedding our product into existing ultrasound machines. This should reduce the amount of time it will take to gain approval from the FDA in the US and then attain the CE mark in the UK and EU, an approval path that we are already on.
It’s a great time for OxEML and we are on the verge of realising a number of opportunities. The medical imaging market in the US is worth $13bn and that’s the first market that we plan to enter, focusing on sport medicine, trauma and orthopaedics. We will follow up by expanding into the EU, UK and Asia Pacific markets to disrupt the $42bn medical imaging market.
We are also in the middle of a Series A funding round of up to $7.5m. Once raised this will go towards commercial production design, completion of the US FDA regulatory approvals. It will also finance the manufacture of the product that we will then commercialise and take to market.
As I said, there are always challenges for companies with innovative new products on the route to market but there are ways of being resilient and maximising chances of success. If I was to give another start up with a medical technology product one piece of advice, it would be that great science and great minds work best when they are exposed to the problem that they are trying to tackle in person, not through advisors or online sources.
It has been incredibly helpful for us spending large amounts of time in hospitals, sometimes not the greatest of times, when we had to take care of family, friends, or ourselves, and talking to clinicians, seeing how things happen there, how patients are diagnosed and treated. We have gained insights into the issues the clinicians are coming up against and their frustrations coupled with the limitations imposed by technology. We have been able to understand the discomfort of patients, and above everything else connect to health professionals, humans who are working to treat and help other humans.