June 15, 2015

Finnish innovation takes the treatment of strokes to a new level

In the treatment based on Nexstim’s technology, the device does not puncture the skin. Thus, there is no pain involved.
In the treatment based on Nexstim’s technology, the device does not puncture the skin. Thus, there is no pain involved.
Nexstim

Nexstim is a medical technology company whose Navigated Brain Stimulation (NBS) technology is unique in the world. NBS can help revolutionise rehabilitation for stroke patients.

According to traditional thinking, stroke patients can reach 95 per cent of their maximum recovery level only within the first three months of treatment. Nexstim’s research has proved, however, that patients undergoing rehabilitation can make good improvements even after those first three months –  but it takes more than just physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

That’s where Nexstim’s NBS technology comes in. The basic idea is to stimulate the brain so that the patient receives greater benefits from physiotherapy.

The patient’s brain is stimulated for 17 minutes, followed by around 60 minutes of physiotherapy. The brain reacts better to therapy after stimulation.

“With our technology, we do not implant anything in the patients – the device does not puncture the skin,” says Nexstim’s CEO, Janne Huhtala. “Thus, there is no pain involved – many patients even sleep during the 17-minute procedure.”

The world’s most accurate extracranial stimulation

This type of treatment is the first of its kind in the world for stroke patients. The only options available have been physio- and occupational therapy, which have produced rather weak results in stroke patients after the initial three months of therapy. Nexstim, therefore, has no real competitor in the field.

The basic idea of the NBS-technology is to stimulate the brain so that the patient receives greater benefits from physiotherapy.

The basic idea of the NBS-technology is to stimulate the brain so that the patient receives greater benefits from physiotherapy.

Nexstim

In practice, NBS technology stimulates neurons in the cerebral cortex using an electromagnetic field. The electromagnetic field created by the device is the minimum able to stimulate the neurons.

This, in itself, is nothing new in neuroscience. The novelty of Nexstim lies in its precision. With NBS technology, stimulation can be targeted with millimetre precision in the desired spot and at the desired dose. According to Huhtala, no other company has been able to provide proof of such precise brain stimulation.

Tests and main markets in the US

There are already 120 pieces of equipment based on Nexstim’s NBS technology in universities and university hospitals around the world. Most of them are being used for research: the devices are considered interesting options not only for stroke rehabilitation, but also for treating, for example, depression and tinnitus.

“The applications for our equipment will definitely broaden over time,” says Huhtala. “Nexstim is interested in stroke patients because the company must maintain its strategic focus. It is nevertheless good that our customers test the equipment for other purposes – at the same time, it allows us to see what clinical opportunities exist.”

Nexstim has subsidiaries in the US and Germany and a total of 34 employees, roughly one-third of which are located outside Finland.

The US is the company’s first official market area, where NBS technology is currently the focus of a multi-centre study in which an external research organisation tests the technology on patients in several different centres.

“Because of clinical testing in the US, we started commercialising there,” says Huhtala. “The US is a sensible starting point also because it is a big, independent market area with consistent compensation and operating models in healthcare.”

Long-term efforts

The multi-centre study will play a big role in determining the company’s future plans. The final results will be obtained next year and will reveal how strong the clinical foundations of the technology are.

Thereafter, full efforts to commercialise the technology can be launched. Huhtala lists patients, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies as the stakeholders who need to be convinced of the research results.

Nexstim’s technology has been developed for 15 years, and until the company’s public listing last autumn, it was funded entirely by venture capital, meaning by continuous funding rounds. Nexstim represents a business where product development takes a long time, incurs tremendous costs and demands a lot of testing.

It’s not for the impatient. The people at Nexstim, however, are not discouraged.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to bring Finnish technology to the world,” says Huhtala. “The best is when stroke patients contact us: when the foreign media do a story on us, we often get enquiries from people asking if NBS would help them and when they can begin treatment.”

Text: Anna Korvenoja

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