Entrepreneur to take 'breakthrough' medtech device to market

London Business School graduate Emilio Sanz-Pereiras plans to diagnose respiratory conditions at home easier and faster

Emilio Sanz-Pereiras, Co-Founder of Acurable and London Business School (LBS) MBA alumnus, is about to start the commercialisation of the award-winning AcuPebble sensor – a milestone for his fast-growing firm. 

Joining Sanz-Pereiras’ team of 11 will be Florence Barkats, also an LBS MBA graduate, who comes with 15 years’ experience in the healthcare industry working for big-hitting firms such as J&J and GE Healthcare. 

The tiny sensor, which weighs around five grams, is the culmination of 10 years’ research at Imperial College London led by Professor Esther Rodriguez-Villegas, Acurable’s Co-Founder. It is the first clinically-proven wearable medical device to diagnose and manage respiratory conditions at home and is five times more accurate than alternatives, making it a breakthrough for respiratory medicine. 

The start-up is targeting multiple applications for its technology, starting with the automated diagnosis of sleep apnoea at home. “Missing the signs of sleep apnoea, the condition that causes people to stop breathing whilst asleep, can have serious implications for your health,” said Sanz-Pereiras. “For example, if left untreated the condition significantly increases the chances of heart problems and high blood pressure.”

Sleep apnoea is the third most common respiratory disorder, after asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, globally. The sleep apnoea device market is projected to reach US$9 billion (£6.4 billion) by 2024, an increase from US$1.8 billion (£1.2 billion) in 2016, according to a study by Global Market Insights

The big benefits of the sensor are its small pound-coin size and accuracy, according to Sanz-Pereiras. “The sensor is an easy-to-use wearable device. Compared to big hospital machines, our tiny sensor does not require the help of a specialist and can be used at home. Thanks to its accuracy it will profoundly improve the way people are diagnosed.”

The sensor is fixed to a patient’s neck with an adhesive, enabling it to rapidly read respiratory biosignals (a word to describe data collected from humans) with a high degree of accuracy. The data is transferred to a mobile and then to Azure, Microsoft’s cloud. Patented algorithms analyse the signals, filter out unwanted noise and extract the relevant respiratory biomarkers.

In 2017, the founders raised £2.1 million investment from Kindred Capital and Alma Mundi Ventures, which is helping fund the rigorous regulatory requirements needed to get the technology ready for the healthcare market.

How is the AcuPebble sensor different from sleep-tracking gadgets such as Nokia Steel or the Fitbit? “The sensor’s accuracy is being rigorously tested through clinical trials, something wellness wearables cannot do,” said Sanz-Pereiras. “We could have easily taken the business down a wellness gadget route. But the vision of our company is to understand human biosignals so well that nobody dies of a treatable condition ever again.”

Medtech will help address some of healthcare’s most pressing challenges, such as hospital bottlenecks and understanding, or lack thereof, the human body. “Today, healthcare is based on visits to GPs and hospitals. But the system is at breaking point: costs are high and hospitals are overcrowded. In 10 years, you will be able to manage your own health. Smart devices will help you understand biosignals and advances in artificial intelligence will help you automatically decipher what to do about the symptoms you find. Fundamentally, most diagnosis will take place at home. 

“People will be empowered to manage their own health and hospitals will be a dedicated place for treatments.”

Acurable is now part of the Microsoft ScaleUp programme for fast-growing start-ups in Europe. “They saw the potential in us,” said Sanz-Pereiras. Benefits include financial and technical support to build their platform on Azure, the cloud that’s home to 80% of firms in the Fortune 500. 

This summer, the sensor will undergo the final clinical trial to comply with European regulations and gain the mandatory CE marking. Next year, the sensor will be trialled in the US to meet Food and Drug Administration standards. By 2020, the co-founders plan to launch their second product to help tackle the prevention of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, which is another area of expertise for Professor Rodriguez-Villegas.