A device developed in the classroom to help newborn babies is now a reality
A Melbourne Business School program designed to help doctors solve medical problems has become a commercial reality that could save up to $650 million in healthcare costs around the world.
NAVi Medical Technologies has won $250,000 in startup competitions in Australia, China and the US for its technology that improves a procedure for treating premature and sick newborn babies.
The invention grew out of Melbourne Business School's pioneering Biodesign Innovation program, launched in 2016, which matches MBA students and biomedical engineering students from the University of Melbourne with doctors to solve real-world problems.
While on the program, a group of five students – the founders of NAVi – found a way to improve the process of placing catheters in newborn babies. The current process hasn't changed in more than 60 years and results in one in three catheters being misplaced.
“I know first-hand the frustration of finding an umbilical venous catheter tip is misplaced,” says Assistant Professor Christiane Theda, a clinician at the Royal Women’s Hospital and NAVi’s Chief Medical Officer.
“Around 40 per cent are misplaced and up to 50 per cent migrate while in place, with the potential for dangerous complications.”
Those percentages translate into over a million misplaced or migrated catheters a year. The current method for checking their position is by X-ray – a stressful procedure for a newborn.
“This is an important problem worth solving,” says Shing Sheung, who became NAVi Medical’s first full-time employee on the day he graduated from his Master of Engineering degree last year.
The company's roots were planted a year earlier, when fellow engineering student Mubin Yousuf and Melbourne Business School students Brad Bergmann, Wei Sue and Alex Newton enrolled in the Biodesign Innovation program to form Team NAVi.
The cross-faculty subject, supported by Melbourne Business School alumnus and donor Ian Kirk, puts students together with hospital clinicians to identify challenges that a commercially viable medical device could address.
Team NAVi won an impressive list of funding prizes for their device last year, including $150,000 at Startup Victoria's Healthtech Pitch Night, $US50,000 at a Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium competition in San Jose, California and $20,000 at the HealthTech Innovation Challenge.
The team were also named People's Choice Award winners at the Medtech's Got Talent competition in December, and have been accepted into the Texas Medical Center and Melbourne accelerator programs.
Those achievements convinced them to take the next step and create their own company. Team NAVi member now CEO Alex Newton – who is also Executive Director of the student-run Melbourne Space Program – says the startup challenge has been invigorating.
“Starting a business is a bit like doing a 1000-piece puzzle with no edge pieces. You have to figure out how things fit together, make decisions based on the information you have, move on, and re-evaluate to see if it’s right,” he says.
NAVi Medical is currently collecting data from catheter placements to develop the algorithm that is at the centre of its neoNAV device. By incorporating a tip sensor to detect the electrical activity of a baby’s heart with an on-screen traffic light system and historic data, their device will tell doctors in real time when a tube is properly placed or has moved. The next step is a prototype.
“Once we have a prototype, we'll need more clinical trials and to pass through the regulatory framework before bringing the product to market. That’s probably another 18 months or more and still a lot of work to do. Throughout that period, we also need to be raising money continually. It's going to be a busy time for both our engineers and business people,” says Alex.
All the original Team NAVi members now have positions at their new company, with Brad the Chief Marketing Officer and Wei the Chief Financial Officer.
While NAVi Medical’s achievements are impressive, it’s not the only success story from the Biodesign Innovation subject, which is only just completing its second year on the curriculum.
Other prize-winning teams attracting investor attention include Team SWADE, who have created a device to detect often-misplaced nasogastric tubes, Team PELT, whose streamlined device is making it easier to treat jaundice in newborns, and Team Stelect, who have come up with a way to help cardiologists select the optimal stent length to reduce the incidence of thrombosis and restenosis.