Since 2018, when the EIT Health center in Lithuania was founded, its coordinators Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) and Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) have organized 36 different initiatives involving more than 2,700 participants. These initiatives consist of informational, financial and mentoring support for startups and scientists developing ideas in the field of health. More than one Lithuanian and specifically Kaunas startup has already benefited from multi directional EIT Health’s help. Among them, we have BrachyDOSE, a startup that won the first place in Kaunas Startup Accelerator in 2018. Currently, the dosimetry system created by Kaunas-based startup has entered the clinical trial stage, and its founders are working on new promising projects.
The EIT Health is a non-profit organization and one of the largest organizations in the European industry of public and private partnerships in healthcare innovation. Its goal is to create an ecosystem that enables the development of future healthcare so that European citizens could lead longer and healthier lives. To that end, EIT Health invests in European talent, improves the skills of healthcare professionals across Europe, helps innovative health products or solutions reach the market faster and is one of the largest publicly funded health initiatives. It is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the European Union.
A number of Lithuanian startups have joined the EIT Health community in one way or another over the past few years. Some of them received financial support to further develop products, which later attracted private investment. The solutions that received financial support are very diverse. From image processing based on artificial intelligence technologies that help doctors make decisions faster and more accurately (Ligence and Oxipit) to a meticulous separation of molecules (Delta biosciences) or “plaster” that helps control psoriasis (Emplastrum).
As noted by Dr Mindaugas Bulota, the head of the KTU National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, which collaborates with the EIT Health Lithuanian center, knowledge that can be provided by experts from a specific field, who share the good practices that significantly accelerate the implementation of innovations because it allows not to repeat the mistakes made by others, is as important as financial support.
“The non-formal education program for the training of mentors for the development of digital health innovations is one of the more interesting products of the center. We developed it and launched it this year, working together with Kilo Health. The idea was born while organizing hackathons and noticing that our university lecturers, researchers, hospital and business representatives are in great need of practical advice on how to best help the participants who come to hackathons. Therefore, during our program the participants not only learned about the steps of developing digital health innovations, and the principles of working with a team, but also practically tested how to identify real problems and come up with solutions to them by choosing the most appropriate tools. The practical experience allowed them to test the position of a hackathon participant and better understand the best help a mentor can provide,” M. Bulota says about one of the projects of the Lithuanian Center of EIT Health.
According to him, EIT Health is first and foremost a community that seeks to respond to societal needs and apply the latest knowledge to create innovative products and services.
“Community is, first of all, massive, crowdsourced knowledge that creates the greatest value. Therefore, we want to invite startups to use the networking, mentoring and financial support tools offered by EIT Health; participate in our events, meet like-minded people and pursue your dreams,” the head of KTU National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre urges the people.
From helping cancer patients to COVID-19 patients
Medical engineering startup BrachyDOSE is one of the innovators from Kaunas who have successfully benefited from the support of the EIT Health organization. They not only actively participate in EIT Health events, info days, but also received support for a newly developed product and help in finding partners and a cooperating treatment facility.
“This year, our engineering team started implementing a new project to monitor the condition of COVID-19 patients at home. The project was funded by the EIT Health RIS Innovation program. We started working with the specialists of Vilnius University’s Santaros klinikos and Biobank, as well as the medical device expert company 2 AM Health. This is a really important recognition of the project as well as financial support and new knowledge, contacts and the consulting network provided by EIT Health,” Neringa Šeperienė, the head and one of the co-founders of the startup, is happy with all the received benefits.
BrachyDOSE startup was born when KTU graduates of applied physics, materials science, medical physics and electronic engineering studies got together and developed a dosimetry system for improving one of the most common cancer treatment methods – brachytherapy procedure.
The BrachyDOSE solution at that time came from research ideas and the desire to use the scientific knowledge gained during doctoral studies to solve a specific problem.
“In the beginning, the team consisted of engineers, medical device designers and medical physicists. Later, medical physics experts and doctors with many years of experience joined the development of the idea,” the manager remembers the realization of the idea.
Like most health innovations, this product has to go through a long and detailed path of research, validation and approval before reaching the stage of mass production. The work was also slowed down by the pandemic, when it was physically difficult to get into hospitals and perform tests. At the moment, the authors of the startup state that they are mainly working on the business plan, the search for funding and the regulatory path. A considerable investment is also required to carry out work in medical institutions and to prove that the device really provides the benefits that are needed by the patient, the doctor and the hospital. Lithuanian patients will be able to see the first BrachyDOSE devices during clinical trials or after CE marking and full market launch, which the founders expect to take place in 12-24 months.
When asked what lessons from her experience she could share with other startup creators, N. Šeperienė says that when creating a solution, they should start with a detailed analysis of the need. “We started implementing BrachyDOSE after we had already come up with a technological solution, so we first looked for meaning, need and application in real conditions, real markets and hospitals. Now I think it would be wiser to go the other way. I would advise other startups to focus on analyzing the need for a product or solution at the beginning and not to be afraid to abandon the project or idea if you don’t see that need. Basically, I would advise you not to be afraid of anything and boldly try, plan, present your ideas to the largest possible audience. Aso it is equally important to find a mentor who will “lead you by the hand,” the co-founder of the BrachyDOSE startup shares her insights.