By Gavin Corley
Galway-based medtech startup, Bluedrop Medical, is preparing for a clinical trial to test out its product for diabetic foot ulcers.
Co-founders Chris Murphy and Simon Kiersey were working for medical device company Medtronic in research and development when they began seeing the potential for medtech products. They wanted to use digitally connected health technology and provide savings for healthcare systems.
“We knew we wanted to do something to do with chronic disease. We didn’t want to confine ourselves to one area, so we cast the net very wide,” says Mr Murphy.
Through their research, they identified a problem of diabetic foot ulcers and the prevalence of amputations in Ireland and around the world.
Diabetes is a common chronic disease: More than 220,000 people in Ireland and 400 million worldwide live with diabetes.
“It’s a horrible disease and extremely costly for the healthcare system,” Mr Murphy says.
Amputations are a significant risk factor with around 550 operations in Ireland and 75,000 in the US carried out annually.
The Bluedrop founders set out to identify the areas where they could potentially improve treatments and reduce the “astronomical” costs.
By detecting ulcers and preventing amputations, Mr Murphy says the product could potentially deliver savings to the HSE of up to €40 million.
The team has now grown to 10 people and is based at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology’s Innovation Hub.
It began working in 2015 developing prototypes and verifying the market for the product, as well as seeking out funding.
Bluedrop Medical raised €1.2m in a seed round that closed at the end of 2018, and subsequently secured a €2.5m grant from the European Innovation Council in June 2019.
An early funding round attracted private investments of €600,000, including Ian Quinn, founder of medical device firm Creganna, and health technology entrepreneur Paul Gilson.
Diabetic foot disease is the top reason for hospital admissions for diabetics, and one in four will develop an ulcer at some stage which can take weeks or months to heal. Mr Murphy says
explains that the company’s initial focus is on the prevention of ulcers and chronic disease management.
“When they have an ulcer, they might have to go into the clinic several times a week to get dressings changed. It can be an invasive condition to deal with and that’s before you talk about amputation,” he says.
The product has two components: A hardware device and software that analyses the data using artificial intelligence.
A device for home use relies on thermal information to detect patterns that may indicate the formation of an ulcer.
“Patients are advised to check their feet on a daily basis for signs of skin damage, but it can be difficult to find the motivation to do that,” Mr Murphy says, although the early signs of an ulcer can easily be missed in a visual inspection.
The patient receives regular updates on the results of the analysis.
Mr Murphy says that Bluedrop hopes national health providers will eventually fund the product, saying it chimes with healthcare policy to get patients out of hospitals and closer to primary care instead.
“If we’re preventing someone from developing a severe ulcer or needing an amputation, that’s one bed freed up,” he says, adding that other benefits include helping patients to take control and stay healthy.
Mr Murphy says they want to make it as easy as possible for the patient, the doctor or specialist who is using the data analysis to monitor and assess the risks.
Since last year’s funding, the startup has been focusing in getting the product over the line, Mr Murphy says.
The company has received interest from providers in the UK and the US and is currently in talks with the HSE regarding a pilot, with a clinical trial planned in 2020.