Biotechnology & PharmaceuticalsView profile
We caught up with Dr. Edoardo Gaude, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Pockit Diagnostics which is developing a tool for faster and more accurate diagnosis of stroke.
The purpose of this article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Edo: I’m Edo, originally from Italy where I did my training, I then moved to the UK for my PhD at the University of Cambridge. My background is in biochemistry and biotechnology and during my PhD I worked on biomarker research for different diseases, including cancer, stroke, and neurological disease. Upon finishing my PhD, I decided to apply my academic skills to real world problems and I then moved to industry.
The initial basic idea of Pockit Diagnostics was to tackle one of the biggest problems in clinical diagnosis, and after a few weeks of research we identified stroke as our target. Particularly, we wanted to focus on early detection of stroke in the acute phase, at which time it is very hard to diagnose whether a patient has had a stroke, or which stroke subtype the patient is suffering. What Pockit Diagnostics has done over the last 3 years, with clinicians in the UK and US, is to discover a new strategy to diagnose stroke subtypes. We combine the detection of blood molecules, with patient symptoms in a diagnostic algorithm to diagnose patients very accurately and quickly*. Currently stroke diagnosis only occurs within hospitals. What we are trying to do with our product is to put a device in every ambulance so that paramedics can diagnose what type of stroke the patient is suffering and ensure the patient gets to a specialised stroke hospital as fast as possible, so that they can be treated more rapidly, and therefore more effectively. The test diagnoses one type of stroke, Large Vessel Occlusion (LVO), which is the most dangerous subtype, being responsible for most of the deaths and disabilities associated with strokes. LVO strokes really are the “public enemy #1” in stroke and need to be identified, and treated, as fast as possible.
*The device is still being developed but the turnaround time for results will be under 10 minutes. The whole idea is that the device is accurate, fast, cheap, and small.
Edo: The company was incorporated in 2017, after which we joined the University of Cambridge Judge Business School Accelerate programme. We then raised our first round of private funding and won an Innovate UK Grant, which pushed us through to the next funding round (happening now). With our first-round money we organised a clinical study, in collaboration with Newcastle NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University, in which we recruited 270 patients and implemented a trial to show that our device has 95% accuracy for LVO stroke diagnosis**. We also managed to file our first PCT patent last year.
Now we are raising our next round of funding, which will enable us to develop the final device. This will then go through regulations and finally be installed in ambulances. At the same time, we are also recruiting patients in the US, for the next studies to confirm the validity of the clinical performance. The first study has already started, in Florida***, while the second study will be much bigger across multiple centres.
Edo: Pockit Diagnostics actually started at the climbing gym. When you climb in a gym, there is a lot of resting time, and you end up chatting to many people. This is how I met my current Co-Founders. They had expertise in diagnostics, and business, and I knew how to find biomarkers for diseases so after a few climbing sessions, and a few pub sessions, we decided to start the company.
As I said, we decided to focus on stroke, and particularly LVO, because doctors need to make emergency decisions very rapidly for LVO. We knew that we could develop rapid diagnostic tests, and that we could find good biomarkers for early detection, so we decided to dive into the deep end of the project.
Edo: Hiring and scaling is something we are still planning for, so we are exploring options. We have to move from being a very small start-up, made up of a handful of Co-Founders and advisors, to hiring and managing a team. We must progress from an individualistic way of managing our work to a more altruistic approach.
Primarily, we have to prioritise the team members and ensure that they are happy and can do the work to the best of their ability. The employees make the company, so we are undergoing an attitude change to focus on this before the hiring begins. We are focusing on ensuring the team dynamic is positive – like bringing new housemates into an existing household, everyone must get along.
Edo: We had the problem at the forefront of our mind when we started the company, so from the start we spoke to clinicians asking for their feedback on the idea and what their needs were. We went to conferences and really engaged with clinicians, from across the UK and US, so they guided us from the very beginning. We developed an understanding of different health care markets by gathering input from clinicians from different healthcare sectors in different countries. We also have a scientific advisory board that is in large part made up of stroke doctors, and that really helped us to understand the market.
Edo: I think first challenge faced by every founder at the beginning of their journey, particularly if it is your first start-up or if you are young and fresh out of your academic career, is that no one believes you! No one believes in you, or in your product – you do not have a track record. I am a scientist, my co-founders worked in the diagnostics industry, we hadn’t made a company before. We essentially just tried to find the people who believed in us, either because they liked us on a personal level, or because they believed in the project, or perhaps they were less risk averse.
Our turning point was this year, when after three years of funding and research we published the result of the clinical study. In our field this is how we build potential, which is a little bit painful as it takes many years to build a clinical study, hoping that it is successful. Once this first step is reached, then the potential is more obvious and people start believing in you and buying into the idea.
Edo: So far, we have had support from the Innovate UK Grant and Cambridge Judge business School Accelerate programme, along with private investment. One lesson that we learnt is that cold calling hardly ever works! What I would suggest to new entrepreneurs who are starting a new company, would be to chase other people who have raised money. Start building your network of people that have raised money and have contacts with investors, build relationships with them and use opportunities for ‘warm’ introductions to investors. Also, based on their experience, find out who the investors are that could best support your needs, not all investors are the same.
The other important aspect with regard to investment is more of an attitude; that not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to like your idea, but keep going! Take what you can from each meeting, ask for feedback, and move on.
In our experience, things really start to change once you have the first investment. Once the first investor buys in you have credibility and you can use their name and status to create more interest.