B2P - Rosemary Sharpin
From helping to understand rheumatoid arthritis, to keeping rancid butter off the shelves, Rosemary Sharpin's doctorate in pathology has already been put to practical use. Sharpin helped found NZ's first biotech company, ICP Bio, in 1983. In 2002 she and business partner Maxine Simmonds decided to go out on their own. Instead of inventing a product then trying to market it, they went to the market first to see what people needed. The result: a fast, simple and portable bacteria-testing system. The system - basically a large bottle in which the contents turn either pink or white, depending on the bacteria present - is already being used in the NZ dairy and shellfish industries, and on drinking water pipelines. Sharpin is also keen to target beaches. "If every lifeguard did a test at night, then in the morning they would know whether the water was safe for swimming, right then and there." The B2P system is already used in Australia and Africa, and the US possibilities are enormous, she believes. "Because the US is so litigious and because food poisoning is such an issue, it's an ideal market for us."
Emendo - David Tinkler and Nick Burns
Christchurch company Emendo has given hospitals a tool that can predict patient numbers with remarkable accuracy. Called CapPlan, the software helps hospitals forecast demand and identify bottlenecks. It can even predict a flu outbreak. Co-founder Nick Burns was a frustrated hospital manager who became a consultant, and helped form Emendo in 2002. In 2005 angel investors Phil Holliday and Dave Tinkler bought a share, and Tinkler is now CEO. CapPlan is used in more than 40 hospitals in Britain, Canada, Australia and NZ. The company has been profitable for the last three years and is talking to potential US partners keen to take a minority stake. Tinkler hopes to keep Emendo in New Zealand as long as possible. "We'd like to make this a really significant New Zealand company, but our research into the US market indicates the need for more capital and we feel we may need someone to take a stake to make a success of that market."
Gasp - John Ross & Wendy McNaughton
It has been estimated that up to one in five New Zealanders suffers some form of asthma, yet most suffer needlessly. That's the view of a nurse with 30 years' experience running asthma clinics, who helped develop software that is dramatically improving patients' lives. Known as Gasp (Giving Asthma Support to Patients), the software ensures health professionals deal with sufferers in a systematic and comprehensive way, and gives patients a personalised plan to follow. Wendy McNaughton says many patients notice a huge improvement within a fortnight of attending a Gasp clinic. "On my tombstone I want: 'I wish someone had told me this years ago', because every patient I meet tells me that - sometimes in tears." John Ross, CEO of the company that owns Gasp, says he quickly realised its potential. "Asthma is quite manageable and we need to get that message out to funders, nurses and politicians." Gasp has been piloted on Auckland's North Shore, Christchurch and Hawkes Bay. An initial study showed a 70 per cent reduction in hospital admissions, and more comprehensive research is being done with Massey University. There has been interest from Britain, Singapore, Brazil, India and Canada, and Ross is this month meeting officials in Australia. In the US, he also met with various aid organisations. The programme is likely to be extended to help people stop smoking, and cope with lung diseases. Ross is particularly keen to target the US, where 11 people die each day because of asthma. "Ideally, I dream of providing the Waitemata district with healthcare all funded out of revenues from overseas administrations," he grins.
INR Online - Paul Harper
Around 46,000 New Zealanders use the blood-thinning drug warfarin (known here as Coumadin and Marevan). But it is notoriously difficult to manage, requiring frequent blood tests and dosage adjustments, and many patients suffer serious complications. Although there is software to help patients manage the drug themselves, most of it does not work very well, says haematologist Paul Harper, who decided he could do better himself. With his son, he developed a system that allows patients to use standard self-testing kits, then go online for immediate treatment advice. A clinical trial in Harper's hometown of Palmerston North was highly successful and a group of NZ GPs have bought the software. Harper formed a company in 2008 and attracted the attention of Roche Diagnostic, which did its own clinical trial, and liked it so much they agreed to act as an agent. Roche's Australian arm is also keen on a deal, but first Harper needs a partner to help fund the company's expansion. So far, the project has been funded entirely by him and his son. "We really need some money put in now, but it's actually quite hard to find it. All the district health boards said it was a good idea, and the Ministry of Health said it was a no-brainer, but no-one's yet come up with any money." However he is confident someone in the US will pick it up, given that around 4 million Americans use warfarin.
Matakina - Ralph Highnam
It was Ralph Highnam's professor at Oxford University who originally suggested he study breast cancer for his PhD; since then, his aunt and his sister-in-law have both died from it. An engineer by training, Highnam has helped to develop software that analyses digital mammograms, which are rapidly replacing the old film type. The software, known as Volpara, looks specifically at breast density, giving radiologists an automated, objective and quantitative tool rather than relying on their own subjective skills. The Matakina team is based in Wellington, but thanks to the internet it includes professors in the Netherlands and Canada. Former Oxford University vice-chancellor John Hood, who is now based in the US, is an independent director. The breast imaging market is estimated to be worth US$1 billion in the US alone. Matakina has applied for FDA clearance and in the meantime Volpara is being trialled by the Dutch breast screening programme, as well as two American universities. Highnam also hopes to strike a deal with Wellington Hospital, and others in this country.
Mesynthes - Brian Ward
A vet by training, Brian Ward has long had an interest in tissue regeneration - a field that has taken off in the past 20 years. He did some early trials with Otago University and Industrial Research, eventually developing an easy-to-apply tissue substitute for wounds that significantly reduces scarring, prevents infection, and promotes faster healing. Two-and-a-half years ago he decided to start his own company and has so far received $3 million from angel and venture capital funds. Ward has also worked in biotech and in sales for pharmaceutical companies, which he loved, so he hasn't found the transition from vet to businessman too difficult. The product was approved by the FDA in January and Ward expects to commercially launch it in the US this year, where the market is estimated to be worth more than US$1 billion. "If we can become over the next five years a $50-$60 million company then we'd be very pleased with that." Once he has nailed the US, Ward will consider expanding elsewhere. "If you can launch and succeed in the US, which is probably the most competitive market in the world, you can probably succeed anywhere".
Orsim - Paul Baker
Inserting a tiny tube down someone's throat (or nose) and into their lungs might sound easy enough, but it's not. On average, NZ physicians use the gadget known as a bronchoscope only three times a year, and their skills can get very rusty. It's a problem that has worried Auckland anaesthetist Paul Baker for years, so four years ago he finally decided to do something about it. Baker hired a team to develop a cheap and portable bronchoscope simulator that can work with any laptop. Some of the 3D software was originally developed by Wellington's Weta studios, and is incredibly realistic. And just like a video game, it even scores your skills. "It's very much the Kiwi way - I've done this with all my own money on a very tight budget, and I was very lucky to get an NZTE grant last year," says Baker. The Orsim simulator is still a working prototype, but Baker expects to have it ready to sell by the end of this year. There are already two rival products on the international market, one of which sells for around US$90,000. He hopes to sell his simulator for US$20,000. Baker has calculated that there are 1800 teaching hospitals, 1000 simulation centres, 150 medical schools and 105 nursing schools in the US alone that might be interested, and is already fielding calls from other countries. He assumes cost is the reason there is only one such simulator in the southern hemisphere, and his hope is that one day his own product will prove so popular that physicians will be able to take one home to practise there, or at least keep one in the office.
Pictor - Anand and Sarita Kumble
We all know the rigmarole required for lab tests. So Anand and Sarita Kumble have done us all a favour by inventing a way to do multiple tests from a single drop of blood - and all it requires is a disposable testing kit and an office scanner. Even better, you get a result in just two minutes. The couple, who both have biotech backgrounds, have so far developed specific tests for rheumatoid arthritis and hepatitis, and tests for other diseases are in development. They are also considering veterinary applications and the potential for food and water testing. They have already sold around 1000 of their PictArray kits in their birthplace of India, and expect that figure to increase exponentially. While they see the biggest opportunity in developing countries, they are also keen to target the US, where the clinical lab-test market is estimated to be worth around US$52 billion. They know the market, having done postdoctoral study at Stanford University, but are determined to continue manufacturing their kits here so they can maintain quality control. They also feel indebted to this country. "We couldn't have done this without the NZ Government," says Sarita. "It's been incredible. We've always got grants and they've always been very supportive."
Simtics - Peter Vanderbeke
No patient wants to be a guinea pig, yet surgeons have to get experience somehow. Online interactive simulations are therefore seen as a godsend for medical training. Few products offer a comprehensive solution, but an Auckland company is among those leading the pack. Simtics was founded by George Oosthuizen, a South African surgeon who moved to New Zealand. He teamed up with a professor and a paediatrician with IT expertise to develop the software-as-a-service model, originally funded by "friends, fools and family", and an NZTE grant. IT industry veteran Peter Vanderbeke joined in, and is now CEO. Clients include Imperial College London and the London Deanery. But the best money Vanderbeke spent was $168 for Google AdWords, which brought Simtics to the attention of listed US company Career Education Corp. It now uses Simtics for all its sonography and radiology training. Another partnership, with a US university, is close. In January last year Simtics had $17,000 in the bank. It has since clocked up sales of more than $3 million, and this year expects to more than double that. Simtics already employs around 65 people on Auckland's North Shore and will soon set up another company for other forms of learning, following interest from the Japanese and British motor industry. "It's a classic rags to riches tale," says Vanderbeke.