Creo Medical’s cutting-edge medical devices have several applications, including the treatment of cancers at an early stage, with minimally-invasive techniques that cut recovery times for patients and free up valuable NHS resources. Almost 20 years after the company was formed, founder Professor Chris Hancock tells us about the pioneering technology, the role of IP of in the company’s success and how the Covid-19 pandemic drove creativity across the organisation.
Q: Your Speedboat Inject device was developed to treat early-stage colon cancers and has been used to treat countless patients worldwide. What has the new technology meant for patients and the NHS?
A: Speedboat Inject was our first product, designed for use in the gastrointestinal tract. Using bipolar radio frequency and super high-frequency microwave energy it can dissect, resect, coagulate and inject, all in a single device.
The procedure known as Speedboat Submucosal Dissection (SSD), is undertaken using an endoscope, and allows clinicians to pinpoint, excise and remove cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions from the colon.
Before the introduction of our device, patients would typically have undergone open surgery or laparoscopic surgery to remove such growths. They would be looking at a week-long stay in hospital and some would have needed a colostomy bag for up to six months afterwards. In some instances, if there were complications, patients may need the colostomy bag for life, which is totally life changing.
Using Speedboat Inject and the SSD procedure means that only local anaesthetic is needed. Patients can be out of hospital within a few hours of the treatment and at worst will only need an overnight stay. The result is that not only are recovery times drastically reduced but scarce hospital resources are freed up which is even more important given the delays to elective procedures that have arisen due to Covid-19.
We estimate that our SSD procedure with Speedboat Inject can save the NHS over £10,000 per procedure versus a traditional surgical outcome, which is approximately a 50% saving.
Q: What’s the future for Speedboat Inject? Do you see it being used for other conditions?
A: The device has proved highly effective in treating colon cancers and as more and more clinicians are trained and become proficient in using it, I expect the number of patients who have access to the treatment to grow.
We are also looking at where we can expand use of the devices to help treat other conditions. In the US is it being successfully used to treat Achalasia, a rare disorder that makes it difficult for food and liquid to pass from the oesophagus to the stomach due to the muscles in the oesophagus failing to open properly, or not opening at all.
Speedboat Inject is used to tunnel through the muscles, opening up the entrance to the stomach and allowing patients to eat and drink again. This non-invasive procedure with Speedboat Inject has been conducted many times in the US.
Other possible conditions that we are looking to treat with the device include haemorrhoids and urinary tract cancers.
Q: Speedboat Inject is the result of many years of research and development. What has the role of intellectual property been?
A: IP has been critical ever since we started the business back in 2003. Our products have a long development cycle – we start with a basic prototype which we develop over time, working with clinicians to adapt, refine and add additional elements to the device.
Our strategy has always been to patent our products at a very early stage. As soon as we have a working prototype and have identified the clinical needs, we patent it. This initial, broad IP protection puts a stake in the ground, blocking competitor organisations from developing similar devices and technologies. Having given ourselves development space, we can work on our inventions, come up with alternative versions and file further patents that are more focused on the latest versions. The strategy to patent an idea at the earliest possible stage gives is the best possible chance to get the broadest possible claims awarded – this strategy has been adopted for the last 20 years and has worked well for Creo Medical.
Ensuring we have the right patents in place has been crucial to securing investment. We started off by winning a £1 million government ‘Invention to Innovation’ grant, targeted at those developing innovations for the NHS to provide better patient outcomes. That grant then encouraged angel investors to fund us.
Both carried out due diligence on our IP to ensure it was protected from potential competitors.
When we floated in 2016, IP continued to be vital and as bigger players look to develop similar technologies, we needed to ensure we secured our space in the market.
Q: What are your plans for international expansion, and what role does intellectual property play?
A: Creo is growing fast and is already a global business. We have direct sales in 9 countries with 11 offices worldwide and over 285 employees. We are also supported by a strong network of distribution partners and are looking to sell our products in more and more countries, focusing on those with significant healthcare infrastructure. This means we need to protect our IP in those jurisdictions.
We began with patents in the UK, Europe, the US and Japan. As we grow, we are looking at other key markets for medical devices and are currently filing patents in China, India, Singapore, Brazil and elsewhere.
We currently hold patents in 13 different countries as well as the European Union.
Until now the job of our IP advisers has been focused on filing patents. As we grow, our devices become more widely used and we broaden their uses, I anticipate that along with considering other ways to monetise our significant asset we could potentially come up against IP litigation. It’s inevitable that there will be those who seek to emulate what we are doing or examine whether they are able to block us from expanding into certain areas. Having IP lawyers on hand who really understand our business and the patent protection we have in place is crucial.
Q: The MedTech industry is a key driver of innovation within healthcare, with a lifetime of change occurring over the last two years. How has COVID 19 impacted Creo?
A: We were able to react quickly to the initial lockdown and delivered equipment to our engineers so they could continue innovating. They set up labs wherever they could, in their homes, on their mum’s kitchen table, one in a classroom in a closed school.
Planned product development work, which would have involved working closely with clients, was not possible under Covid restrictions. Instead, our engineers were free to focus on new ideas and had the time to invent and be creative.
As a result, 2020 saw us file more patents for new inventions than in any other year in the history of the company – we actually filed 16 new inventions to protect new ideas around our platform generator, new advanced energy sources, and enhancements to our suite of miniature flexible devices.
In the early days of the pandemic, we were also able to use our skills, equipment and resources to help efforts to tackle Covid-19, both in our local communities and further afield.
We used 3D printers to manufacture PPE, worked with the University of the West of England in their microbiology labs on plasma technology for large scale disinfection and bought 200 ventilators for the NHS. Later those ventilators that had not been needed were sent to India when the country was in the midst of its Delta wave.
From a financial point of view, with a supportive base of shareholders, a £35m fundraising was completed during 2021. Giving us a solid foundation to weather the remains of the storm.
Q: Are there any new products on the horizon over the next 12 months?
A: As well as expanding the uses of Speedboat Inject, our current focus is to hone and iterate our existing suite of devices, some of which are already being trialled by clinicians in the US and elsewhere.
One example is our MicroBlate Fine device, which can be used to ablate pancreatic tumours. This device is yielding promising results in clinical use.
As we are all very aware, the NHS is facing huge waiting lists of those requiring operations. We are also seeing patients who avoided seeking medical attention during the pandemic continue to present with signs of cancer. Creo Medical and our range of medical devices has an important part to play in tackling this by giving clinicians the means to treat early stage cancers without the need for major operations or lengthy hospital stays.
Longer term, my hope is we will be able to integrate diagnostics into our devices, using our technology to rapidly screen and detect, as well as treat cancers.
Mewburn Ellis has been working with Creo Medical for over 18 years, advising the Med Tech company on its patent strategy. The team is led by partner and patent attorney Andrew Mears.
Learn more about Creo Medical on their website: https://creomedical.com/
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