US launch carries great expectations

At the announcement that Metabolomic Diagnostics has attracted €750,000 in venture funding were Minister Sean Sherlock; Bill Liao, Charles Garvey, Frank Walsh. Pic: Daragh McSweeney

Set up to commercialise technology developed at UCC, Metabolomic Diagnostics has the global market in its sights as it prepares to launch the world’s first test for pre-eclampsia in early pregnancy, writes Trish Dromey.

CORK firm Metabolomic Diagnostics is preparing to launch the world’s first test for pre-eclampsia in early pregnancy on the US market next year.

The long-term aim is to sell the test to every country in the world and the expectation of company founder and chief executive Charles Garvey is that the company could earn revenues of tens of millions of euro within five years.

Set up to commercialise technology developed at UCC, Metabolomic Diagnostics is based at Little Island, where it employs a team of five scientists.

Participating in a €6m EU-funded research project on biomarkers in pregnant women, the company raised venture capital funding of €750,000 last month, which is being used to advance commercialisation of the research.

According to Mr Garvey, the pre-eclampsia test has the potential to transform maternal and fetal care globally, improving quality of care and reducing costs.

“Between 70,000 and 80,000 women die every year from pre-eclampsia and around 500,000 infants die annually as a direct result of the condition,” he reveals.

The commercial potential of the test is indicated by the fact that in the US alone, $7bn (€5.1bn) is spent annually on prenatal care associated with pre-eclampsia.

The formation of Metabolomic Diagnostics came about as a result of an introduction which took place through the Enterprise Ireland Business Partners programme.

Mr Garvey, a serial entrepreneur with experience in growing Irish technology companies internationally, met UCC professor of obstetrics Louise Kenny, who had been researching pre-eclampsia since 2007.

He saw global potential in the early detection test she had been working on.

“The company was set up in 2011 specifically to license the research which had been patented by UCC,” says Mr Garvey, who was joined by two other experienced entrepreneurs, Paul Hands and Diarmuid Cahalane in establishing the new venture.

Prof Kenny, who was awarded an Enterprise Ireland Life Science & Food Commercialisation award for developing the test, became a member of the company’s advisory board.

Since 2011 the company’s researchers have been involved in validating the research and commercialising the test. Participation in the EU study will provide the firm with blood samples from 5,000 pregnant women to assist in this work.

In December last year the company secured €750,000 through a syndicate of investors, which included SOSventures Ireland Fund, AIB Seed Capital Fund and Enterprise Ireland — which had identified Metabolomic Diagnostics as a High Potential Start-Up in 2013.

Mr Garvey expects the first version of the test, which is called PrePsia, to be ready for launch in the US market in 2015.

“We have chosen to launch in the US first because of its population size and the market spend,” he says, explaining that many life-science companies start with a US launch.

The aim is to partner with a major US laboratory, which will help speed up the process of getting regulatory approval for the new test there. Getting regulatory approval for every country is a time-consuming and expensive process.

“It makes sense to start with a market with a population of 310m. We can use revenues generated in the US market to help fund the roll-out in other countries.”

Mr Garvey has already had discussions with potential US partners and has engaged with the Food and Drugs Administration.

He says the company has also looked at regulatory requirements in other markets with a view to expanding.

In the future, it hopes to develop tests to detect other complications of pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, pre-term delivery and underdeveloped foetuses.

For now, the focus is on finalising the research and producing the first version of the test in readiness for commercial launch.


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