Finland could be called a small giant in the field of diagnostics. The country offers strong capabilities in the research, development and production of diagnostics and great possibilities for clinical research.
Combine this with high-level engineering skills and a hefty dose of entrepreneurial spirit, and what do you get? Our quintet of Finnish innovators making various health issues easier to detect and treat.
It’s always a lucky escape when someone falls and hits their head without any severe consequences. But not everyone is so fortunate. Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI), and accidents often happen during contact sports and recreational activities, in particular when kids are in question. The numbers globally are huge. There are an estimated 69 million new TBIs every year. Even though 90 per cent of the cases are mild concussions, an effective way to evaluate their extent and severity is crucial.
“Detection of brain trauma is challenging since the ordinary examination of patient’s responses, neither head scans by CT nor MRI, can detect mild TBI and concussion reliably,” says Adrian Harel, CEO of the Finnish diagnostics company Medicortex. “We aim to introduce a solution to this urgent need by developing a rapid non-invasive biomarker test for TBI.”
So how does the test work? It responds to biomarkers that appear in urine and saliva shortly after brain injury. The test uses a simple strip, doesn’t require scans or anaesthesia and quickly gives a reliable, easy-to-read result.
The test kit already has several patents, and it has been through successful clinical trials. Now Medicortex is in the process of developing a medical device prototype and seeking regulatory approval. In future, the company also has plans to develop a drug to halt the progression of brain injury.
But until then, Medicortex is proceeding full speed ahead with its diagnostic kit. The company is backed by a fresh funding round and grants from Business Finland, the EU and the US Department of Defense. The company is also contemplating a public listing, an IPO, in the first half of 2022.
Medical measuring devices are rarely pleasant to use. Even the best ones interfere with patients’ everyday lives in one way or another. But there could be another way. Lappeenranta-based startup Henkaus develops medical-grade tools for tracking vital signs without physical contact. These devices continuously collect data for a healthcare professional to view and intervene when needed.
“Our solutions gather accurate and objective data to serve as a pre-diagnostic aid and to help optimise treatment pathways,” explained Abhishek Jayaprakash, Henkaus’ CEO and co-founder. “We have a vision to predict illness even before it takes place.”
Henkaus’ target markets are in telemedicine, home care and assisted living sectors. Its first product is a contactless respirometer capable of measuring a patient’s respiratory rate from one to three metres away even through bedding, linen and clothes. The measurements happen in the background and don’t require any effort from the user. When healthcare professionals need to access the data, they can use a simple interface on a web browser or a smart device.
Henkaus was founded in August 2019 by a trio of innovation technology management students at the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). They got together for an innovation competition and decided to turn their idea into an actual business. Fast forward to today, and Henkaus has received a medical device CE certification for its respirometer and is looking to expand production.
“The CE marking certifies that our product is compliant with the relevant EU legislation, and we are all set to commercialise our solutions anywhere in the European Economic Area,” Jayaprakash said.
Data is also at the heart of another Finnish diagnostics startup, Evexia. Founded in 2020, the company has created a mobile app to support doctors in cancer treatment decisions. Patients can use the app to easily record relevant health data for their doctor to use.
“We wanted to make patient-oriented software that’s easy to use as a mobile application,” explained co-founder Otto Laitinen. “The way our app works, the patient should actively use it once a day, for a period of less than five minutes.”
Why data collection is so important in cancer care is the ECOG grade. Currently, this grade is given to every cancer patient and used to understand what kind of treatment the patient can withstand. But, according to Evexia, there are three major issues with this system. The grade is often decided by only one doctor, although research shows doctors often don’t agree on the grade. There is recall bias as patients try to remember past symptoms and activity. Finally, the patient’s performance status is captured only during clinical visits when it can vary daily.
This is where Evexia steps in. Its software uses daily patient data to recommend an ECOG grade for the doctor. The doctor can then use the recommendation to make the best possible treatment decision.
Behind Evexia are a group of tech-oriented Aalto University and University of Helsinki students. It is still early days for the company, but it has already collaborated with HUS Helsinki University Hospital in developing its software. While product design and testing continue, Evexia is preparing to pilot the app in spring 2022.
Cardiac problems are among the most significant public health challenges worldwide. Coronary arterial disease (CAD) alone kills over one million people in Western countries each year. But what if there was a way to more easily identify and predict cardiac issues? Cardiomtec believes it has an answer.
The company develops affordable, small and reliable devices for measuring and evaluating cardiac function at home. There is no need for cumbersome hospital visits, as the data is automatically uploaded to a cloud server for healthcare professionals to assess.
A significant challenge with cardiac issues is that they are often asymptomatic. This is why Cardiomtec’s first product targets seemingly healthy individuals who can use the device to record their cardiac activity. The device measures and detects changes in the heart’s electrical activity using an ECG signal.
“Cardiomtec wants to get in front of the problem to prevent cardiac failure in the first place: to be the device of choice for the active person on-the-go,” explained Mikko Kaski, CEO of Cardiomtec.
The company was launched only in 2020, but it’s backed by Kaski’s over 20 years of experience in the medical device industry. In addition, Cardiomtec has consulted cardiologists in developing its device, which it expects to launch in 2022.
In essence, Helsinki-based startup Phonolyser helps tiny hearts to beat. The company is on a mission to help detect congenital heart disease (CHD), a structural heart defect present at birth. According to Phonolyser, around 1.35 million babies are born with CHD every year, making it the most common birth defect worldwide.
The critical issue with CHD is the differentiation of innocent heart murmurs (unusual sounds in the heart) from dangerous ones. This is where Phonolyser steps it. It has developed a smart heart sound analyser of the same name that combines artificial intelligence, Doppler technology and sound analysis to assess heart murmurs. The device shows, among other things, the intensity and location of a murmur, helping a paediatrician to make the correct diagnosis.
“What’s more, every doctor and member of the healthcare staff can use it: it’s not meant only for specialists and cardiologists,” said Bahman Doaeian, co-founder of Phonolyser.
The company was founded in 2017, and the third iteration of the Phonolyser screening tool was launched in May 2021. Now the startup is in the process of filing patents for Europe and the US.
The article was originally published in January 2022