Combating diseases and optimizing treatments. This is what Helia Biomonitoring, a spin-off from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), is working on.
Helia Biomonitoring is developing a technology with which specific molecules in a fluid can be continuously detected. It is a long way with stops in laboratories and industrial processes to finally arrive at the medical application.
“There are already several things that can be continuously monitored in a patient, such as heart rate, movement and body temperature”, says Menno Prins, co-founder of Helia Biomonitoring. “There is also a good sensor to detect glucose in the skin, but sensors for other chemicals are not yet available. Nevertheless, according to Prins, it could be very useful to measure more substances.” For example, drug levels in the bodies of patients. They often get standard doses now, but each person is different and processes medicines in a different way. As a result, the concentration of medicine in the blood can vary from person to person. By means of a sensor, the concentration of medicines can be set exactly right, which can make a big difference for the patient.”
There are several applications of the technique. In addition to measuring drugs, it will for example also be able to detect inflammations. “The occurrence of an inflammation now usually becomes visible due to the occurrence of fever and increased heart rate”, explains Prins. “But before those symptoms occur, you can already measure molecules in the blood that show the activation of cells of the immune system, which indicates an inflammation.”
There are new treatments, for example, for cancer that respond to the immune system, so-called immunotherapies. Immunotherapy activates the immune system and white blood cells attack the cancer. “There are different types of cancer that can be cured with these treatments”, says Prins. However, it is possible that the immune system becomes overactive and also attacks healthy cells. “With this technology, an overactive immune system could be detected early”, he says. “The therapy can then be adapted to this.”
Before this technology can actually be used in the hospital, a lot of research needs to be done and different prototypes need to be built. “It’s about the treatment of sick people”, says Prins. “In that case, the chances of it having negative consequences for the patient must be as small as possible. Next year he wants to test the technology outside the laboratory. “That’s actually the first prototype. Even if it can only be used by researchers, not lay people. So, it certainly shouldn’t be used on patients yet.”
According to Prins, the medical application of the technique remains the most important goal. “But we might be able to use it outside the company before that, for example in industry. In factories, the system could help with purification processes.” When processing raw agricultural products into food ingredients, it can be useful to keep a close eye on concentrations of impurities. This information allows the manufacturing processes to be optimally adjusted, for example to reduce energy consumption.” According to Prins, bringing a sensor system to the market for the industry can be done faster than for the medical sector.” A new product will not always work perfectly in the early days. In industry, it is easier to compensate for a malfunction than in a medical setting.” In addition, the application in the industry will yield valuable findings that will make the technology suitable for later use in the medical sector.
The Search for Partners
According to Prins, the search for the right applications of the technology and the matching partners is an interesting step in the development of the company. “If we have something that we think is promising, it makes us feel euphoric”, he says. “It’s not easy to find partners with appropriate future visions and complementary knowledge.” In addition, we take a close look at the current global trends and those of the future. “We want to hitch a ride on trends so that we have a product that can be used for many years to come.”
This is why the development of the first product is still in full swing. “We now have four areas of application for the technology and we have found potential partners for each application”, says Prins. “Establishing a growth path is an important goal for the coming year. In it, we also look at how the applications can best fit together in order to ultimately arrive at the medical application.” There are two important points that can contribute to this: attracting people with the right expertise and developing a financing path. “Prototypes must ultimately show how the technique can best be applied and when it is ready for the market. Both the technology and the management around it are still growing.”