An award-winning consumer personalised health device manufacturer specialising in sleep aid technologies is gearing up for growth following significant seed investment.

Braintrain 20:20, which combines wearables, apps and consumer electronics to deliver the perfect night’s sleep, has received a total of £485,000 from Mercia Fund Management and notable angel investors, including senior sleep specialists and healthcare entrepreneurs. The funding will be used to expand the business and complete a formal clinical trial at a global top-tier sleep research centre.

According to NHS Choices, problems with sleep are thought to affect one in three people. These are exacerbated by modern habits such as 24/7 connectivity, phone screens and electric lights. A lack of sleep can cause serious long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, as well as day-to-day issues such as low mood, poor cognitive performance and dangerous driving.

Braintrain 20:20’s first patented product, SleepCogni, measures heart rate, skin temperature and oxygen levels in the blood to build a sleep programme based entirely around the patient, their habits and their needs. It then delivers cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) via light and sound therapy though a unique bedside device and speaker system, which is capable of both inducing sleep and rousing the patient at an appropriate time.

SleepCogni has already received positive feedback after piloting its initial prototype at Sheffield Hallam University, with 50% of its users reporting an improvement in their sleep compared to other groups using traditional relaxation music. With its technology, as well as a strong mix of commercial, sales and scientific expertise in its team, Braintrain is well placed to become a leader in the global sleep aid market, which is currently valued at $58.1bn.

Richard Mills, CEO of Braintrain 20:20, said:

“Mercia is the perfect partner for us, as their ‘Complete Capital Solution’ will be able to meet our needs as a personalised healthcare technology start-up. We need an investor that understands our journey ahead and can help us plan for future growth.

“Our mission is to help the millions of sleep sufferers around the world with a clinically proven, non-drug solution and reduce the world’s dependency on sleeping tablets.”

Dr Ashish Patel, Investment Manager for Mercia Fund Management, said:

“We have wanted to explore the consumer personalised healthcare market for a long time, and we are particularly excited about Braintrain 20:20, which has the potential to become industry-leading given the sector expertise of the team. The technology could also be modified for other health issues, thus allowing people to take control of their health, whilst decreasing the burden on stretched health services.”

Mercia Technologies announced today that it has completed a new direct investment of £650,000 into Medherant Limited, a University of Warwick spinout that has developed a transdermal drug delivery system in the form of a patch.

To read the full Stock Exchange announcement, click here.

The Native Antigen Company, a former University of Birmingham spinout specialising in the research, development and manufacture of high purity viral and bacterial products, has collaborated with Avacta Group plc to create unique tools to develop diagnostic tests for the Zika virus.

Avacta Group plc, the provider of Affimer® affinity reagents for research and diagnostics, has used The Native Antigen Company’s industry-leading Zika NS1 protein, a recombinant protein derived from the virus which has been created for research purposes, to develop three distinct Affimer reagents. These reagents are capable of behaving like antibodies to bind to Zika NS1 and form the basis of new immunoassays.

Zika is a member of the flavivirus family carried by mosquitoes, which was recently linked to microcephaly in new-born children. It is currently extremely difficult to diagnose due to its structural similarities to other flaviviruses, such as Dengue, Yellow Fever and Japanese encephalitis.

The Affimer reagents generated by Avacta are the first published and validated reagents to bind specifically to the Zika virus NS1 protein. The Native Antigen Company’s NS1 protein was identified by Avacta as the best, most structurally accurate Zika antigen available, largely due to the fact that it was developed using mammalian cells.

Affimer binders are a novel engineered alternative to antibodies which can be produced quickly. They will be a vital tool in supporting rapid response efforts to what is now considered a global health emergency, and will help companies to develop point-of-care diagnostics and health screening tools.

Steven Powell, CEO of The Native Antigen Company, said:

“We have seen a huge level of interest in all of our flavivirus NS1 reagents from a wide range of diagnostic companies and reagent developers looking to develop high-quality, highly specific assays. Our recombinant proteins expressed in mammalian systems represent the most authentic antigens available for such development, and we are very pleased to see them playing a key role in the fight against the Zika virus outbreak.”

Dr Alastair Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Avacta Group plc, said:

“The identification of these three Affimer binders using The Native Antigen Company’s Zika NS1 protein means that new diagnostic tests could be developed that have the potential to diagnose a Zika infection from its early stages, and would be suitable for low cost, rapid, point-of-care diagnostics that could be deployed widely in the field.”

Peter Dines, Investment Director and Head of Life Sciences & Bio-sciences at Mercia, said:

“This is further validation of The Native Antigen Company’s work which is, in many cases, unique to the industry. The company is a great example of an ‘Emerging Star’ that Mercia has supported, first via its third party funds, and then via its own balance sheet. We look forward to supporting The Native Antigen Company further as it continues to build on its partnerships with businesses such as Avacta.”

Mercia Fund Management (Mercia) has underlined its commitment to pursue investment in the burgeoning diagnostics sector by investing early stage capital in Sense Biodetection Limited (Sense).

The investment will allow Sense to develop its initial product – point-of-care diagnostic tests within the infectious diseases market. Experienced angel investor and former CEO of the Bank of Ireland’s Financial Services Division, Jeff Warren, has also been appointed Chairman.

Mercia Fund Management, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercia Technologies PLC, a national investment group focused on the creation, funding and scaling of innovative businesses from the UK regions with high growth potential, led a funding round totalling £500,000 alongside a group of business angel investors, including investors from Angels in MedCity and the Oxford Investment Opportunity Network (OION).

Sense’s diagnostic tool allows accurate and specific nucleic acid tests to be performed whenever and wherever they are needed. There is a growing demand for point-of-care diagnostic tools to provide convenience and accuracy, which could additionally result in the appropriate use of antivirals or antibiotics to reduce their overall use.

Rapid and accurate detection of the cause behind a potential infection is essential to ensure that appropriate treatment is administered in a timely fashion. Sense is currently developing point-of-care diagnostic technologies with the potential to be superior to existing, time-consuming and complex methods in a global market believed to be worth over $7bn per annum, according to a report by BCC Research.

Current methods also rely on sample handling, transportation and centralised testing, which run the risk of cross-contamination. Centralised testing also results in extended delays and, potentially, poor diagnosis.

Dr Harry Lamble, CEO of Sense Biodetection, said:

“We are delighted to receive the backing of such a strong syndicate of investors, particularly Mercia, one of the UK’s fastest growing technology investors. Their support will allow us to build upon the already strong foundations we have in place.”

Peter Dines, Investment Director and Head of Life Sciences & Bio-sciences at Mercia, said:

“We are pleased to support Dr Lamble and to work alongside the management team as they scale the business.

“Both the diagnostics and point-of-care sectors are predicted to grow and, as such, we believe that start-ups capable of meeting this head on present an exciting opportunity to investors.”

Life sciences offers a broad range of subsectors that are potentially rewarding to both business builders and investors, particularly as technologies converge to include bio and advanced materials, connectivity and digital innovations across the UK. In the wake of global challenges, including Zika, antimicrobial resistance, an ageing population and demographics growth, technological advances in surgery and diagnostics, and the growing use of digital technology in the delivery of healthcare, businesses capable of offering solutions that are both ethical and cost effective are the most likely to become market leaders.

However, before investors start seeing life sciences as a honey pot of opportunity, they must bear in mind that this sector, perhaps more so than any other, requires a vast amount of knowledge, experience and, most importantly, patience.

Nevertheless, knowing what to look for, and understanding how to approach businesses within this sector, will help significantly in offsetting risk and building capital in what can be a morally – and potentially financially – rewarding proposition for investors.

Investing in life sciences requires knowledge, experience and patience.

For Mercia, life sciences is a sector in which we hold a great deal of expertise (our investment team for this sector includes PhDs, entrepreneurs and a clinician). Broadly speaking, we ask ourselves the following questions whenever we examine a new business investment opportunity.

1. Does it solve a clinical or scientific problem?

A life sciences business must be able to prove that it can solve a current clinical or scientific problem more efficiently and cost effectively than any other existing solutions in that field. This needs to be demonstrated in both the initial Research & Development phases, and then again further down the line, when the business needs to pass industry regulations.

2. Is it defensible?

From start-up to exit, the intellectual property of any technology developed by a life sciences business must be protected by patents, both domestically and abroad. A company that does not ensure this leaves its work vulnerable to theft, reproduction and, potentially, the opportunity for a competitor to build on and improve its technology.

3. Is it in motion or lost in the lab?

Ideally, by the time any investment comes into the picture, a life sciences business should be in its development and commercialisation phase. As an investor, we will be asking the business to prove that its minimum viable product is capable of being applied outside of a laboratory setting, with all of the necessary regulatory and commercialisation plans mapped out.

4. Does their stated target market really exist?

The research may be a unique, ground-breaking piece of work worthy of a science fiction novel, but if the market is theoretical, then the technology simply cannot be commercialised.

A business must demonstrate that it can solve a clinical problem with technology protected by patents.

5. Is the team ready to build a business?

We have had the privilege of working with some of the most brilliant scientific minds in the country, but this has not always meant that their work is destined to disrupt their given sector. Knowing the ins and outs of the human genome does not automatically equate to knowing the ins and outs of sales, marketing and finance. An investor must, therefore, complete extensive due diligence on the capabilities of the team to ensure a healthy mix of both academic expertise and business builders.

6. Is the commercialisation plan credible?

Is the route to market feasible, or built on a wing and a prayer? We often see a business plan that has the sales forecasts totalling multi-millions in year three, but an overhead structure that does not change from day one, without including costs for marketing, clinical development, sales, operations, finance and all other aspects required to run a successful and profitable business.

An investor will want to review projections very closely, ensuring that a business could withstand regulatory approval, market changes and economic upheavals, as well as support the sales forecasts.

Never be swayed by flashy promises and always bear in mind that a successful life sciences business has many challenges to overcome, with the product actually working being only one of them.

7. Are any possible reimbursement challenges identified and addressed?

Unique to this sector is the requirement for a business looking at medical devices or diagnostics to meet all of the standards required for reimbursement, whether through a private health company, a national health service or an insurance firm. It is vital that investors understand this process in order to recognise any potential problems, which could mean the difference between success and failure.

8. Are potential regulatory challenges identified and addressed by the business plan?

An investor must have the requisite knowledge to spot any hurdles that could crop up during the regulatory process. Likewise, they should be satisfied that the business has also identified those hurdles, and offered strategies on how to mitigate the risks, as well as a couple of Plan B’s if necessary.

An investor should always be aware that new medical technology must go through several stages of approval before it reaches the market, meaning that the company may not reach profitability until several years after the initial investment.

Peter Dines is Mercia’s Head of Life Sciences & Bio-Sciences. He has over 20 years’ experience in the industry, having founded and sold a number of businesses in this sector.

[Pictured: Adrian Kinkaid receiving an award for the Dragon’s Den competition at the ELRIG Drug Discovery Conference, held in September 2015.]

MIP Diagnostics Ltd, a spinout from the University of Leicester developing plastic antibodies for a variety of applications, has received follow-on investment from Mercia Fund Management (Mercia), a leading investment business in UK innovation and wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercia Technologies PLC.

The investment, totaling £300,000, follows the successful completion of key milestones, including the appointment of CEO Dr Adrian Kinkaid, and the development of an initial sales pipeline. One year into operations, MIP Diagnostics has managed to secure customers and is in initial discussions with several blue chip organisations.

MIP Diagnostics will use Mercia’s latest funding to build momentum for its current fee-for-service business strategy. It will also continue to raise awareness of the advantages of MIPs, particularly in its initial target markets of pharmaceutical research & manufacturing, biotechnology, nutrition, security, environmental monitoring and academic research.

Dr Adrian Kinkaid, who was appointed CEO of MIP Diagnostics last June, said:

“We are pleased to receive further investment from Mercia which, alongside the Technology Transfer Team at the University of Leicester, has been a great support as we expand operations and secure initial customers.

“We will now work towards increasing this momentum by building our sales pipeline and, in the longer term, expanding our team.”

MIPs (Molecularly Imprinted Polymers) are alternatives to traditional antibodies made from polymers and synthesised by a novel method developed by Professor Sergey Piletsky, Professor of Bioanalytical Chemistry at Mercia’s university partner, the University of Leicester.

MIPs solve the current challenges inherent in the use of antibodies and aptamers. Traditional antibodies are vital tools for drug discovery and point-of-care diagnostics, but they are frequently unreliable due to their fragility and propensity to biodegrade. Furthermore, in order to work successfully, antibodies need to bind to the target using a predetermined scaffold of fixed dimensions.

MIPs, on the other hand, are not biodegradable and are constructed by a process of self-assembly using the target molecule as a template. This also makes them more readily available, in many cases taking two weeks or less to make. Being polymers, they are also very robust and thus able to withstand extremes of temperature and pH. Additionally, MIPs can now be designed to incorporate other properties depending on their application. For example, a MIP can be developed with magnetic properties to facilitate purification or made to be florescent for easier detection.

MIPs already have the potential to disrupt the use of antibodies and aptamers to become a core part of an increasingly high-value sector with significant market opportunity. The research reagent market alone is currently valued at $2.4bn, with research antibodies contributing around one third of the value, according to Pivotal Scientific Ltd.

Dr Nicola Broughton, Mercia’s Head of Technology Transfer, has worked closely with MIP Diagnostics since its foundation in 2015. She said:

“We are pleased to invest further into MIP Diagnostics, which has experienced significant advances since Mercia’s SEIS investment from its third party funds last year.

“We believe that there is significant value to be unlocked from replacement antibody products in a variety of markets and the company has the ability to build a range of proprietary products that it can sell and then licence to bring in higher revenues and, ultimately, a larger exit value.”

Mercia Fund Management (‘Mercia’), a leading investment business in UK innovation and wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercia Technologies PLC, has committed follow-on capital to Medherant Ltd, a University of Warwick spin-out developing a novel patch technology for delivery of a variety of drugs.

Medherant’s patch, known as the TEPI-patch®, is a thin, strong, easy-to-apply and easy-to-remove patch capable of delivering higher doses of drugs directly to the areas where they are needed. The therapy is delivered by the patch over a period of one to twelve hours or more, depending on the patient’s requirements and the drug being administered.

The technology, which is initially being developed for Ibuprofen and Methyl Salicylate (used in topical pain relief), is capable of working with a wide range of products, including drugs that have failed clinical trials because of their unsuitability for oral consumption. The patches are easy to manufacture because, unlike other patch technologies, this does not involve the use of any solvents. They can also use less material, so this technology also has the potential to relieve huge cost burdens from healthcare systems.

The investment, which totals £250,000 from both Mercia’s third-party University Growth Fund and Growth Fund 4, will allow Medherant to exploit the high levels of interest in its technology following significant recent media reporting. The investment will also be used to enable the company to continue product development.

Since Mercia’s first investment last June 2015, the company has secured an exclusive deal with Bostik SA, a leading adhesive specialist, to use a novel pressure sensitive adhesive material in the development of the patch. Medherant has also moved to new laboratories, and has validated that its technology works successfully on drugs that were previously not suitable for transdermal delivery.

During this time, Medherant has worked closely with Mercia’s Head of Technology Transfer, Dr. Nicola Broughton, who commented:

“It is wonderful to see Medherant achieve such impressive results, whilst still being at a relatively early stage in its development. Medherant, which is a spinout from our partner the University of Warwick, is testament to the potential that lies within the Midlands in Life Sciences & Bio-Sciences, and I look forward to the continued relationship with the team.”

Nigel Davis, CEO of Medherant Ltd, said:

“Medherant has benefitted from a lot of commercial and media interest over the past few months, and we are grateful to Nicola and Mercia for their support as we continue to harness this awareness and build on our existing patch technology.”

Mercia Fund Management (‘Mercia’), a leading investment business in UK innovation and wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercia Technologies PLC, is collaborating with the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (“WMAHSN”) to help build and support healthcare start-ups across the West Midlands.

The new SME Innovation Fund is led by Mercia’s Head of Life Sciences, Peter Dines. It aims to grow spinouts to improve healthcare services across the NHS, particularly those in line with the WMAHSN’s core strategic priorities: advanced diagnostics; genomics and precision medicine; mental health; recovery, crisis and prevention; long-term conditions; and wellness and the prevention of illness.

The WMAHSN brings together investment, energy and expertise from across the health science community. In collaborating with Mercia, it will help to provide repayable grants of up to £50,000 to at least ten new innovations each year. In so doing, the fund will support innovations that have the potential to deliver a high impact for society, grow the reputation of healthcare delivery within the West Midlands, both in the UK and abroad, and support the spread and adoption of patient-focused innovation across the region.

Mercia has a strong track record of financially supporting and building life science businesses across the UK, all of which provide a scalable and innovative way of streamlining services, improving patient safety and releasing the burden of cost on the NHS. In particular, Mercia focuses on supporting businesses within the Midlands, the North and Scotland, such as Manchester Imaging, a dental diagnostic spinout from the University of Manchester.

[Investment Director and Head of Life Sciences, Peter Dines]

Commenting on the new fund and the partnership with WMAHSN, Peter Dines said:

“This project has been several years in the making, and I am very pleased that we are now able to launch a fund with real potential to make a significant difference within the community.

“The NHS is constantly looking to improve patient care and deliver more for less. Given the current cost constraints, it is more important than ever that we build and fund businesses that can improve patient care in a cost effective and sustainable way.

“Mercia has already lent its support to start-ups and spinouts across the spectrum of medical services, and we look forward to discovering further investment opportunities within the diverse healthcare sector. We have already identified a number of exciting companies in the region and we look forward to being able to support their future growth.

“We are pleased to be collaborating with the WM AHSN, which has a strong reputation for changing the way healthcare is perceived and delivered in the UK.”

Tony Davis, Commercial Director of WMAHSN, said:

“We are delighted to be working with Mercia on the launch of the SME Innovation Fund. The fund is a sign of our continued commitment to SMEs in the West Midlands’ life sciences sector, helping to create wealth in the local economy through industry collaboration and attracting inward investment, as well as delivering improvements in healthcare across the region.

“The SME Investment Fund is now available to support the West Midlands’ healthcare challenges – as identified across the WMAHSN’s priorities and enabling themes – and aid the spread of innovative diagnostics, devices and services at scale and pace.”

For more information on how to invest in the fund, or to apply for funding, please email Peter Dines or Lucy Chatwin.

University of Bristol spinout developing slow-releasing chlorhexidine for dentistry and medicine

Mercia Fund Management (MFM), a leading technology investor, has invested its first round of funding in Pertinax Pharma Ltd, a company developing a solution to improve the efficacy of chlorhexidine-based products, based on years of research and development from the University of Bristol’s School of Oral and Dental Science.

The investment round, which will total £400,000, allows Pertinax Pharma to begin the development of a robust, scalable production process and tap into its initial target market – oral care and dentistry. The investment from MFM’s capital will total £200,000 and is being matched by an investment by a university alumnus. This investment comes shortly after Pertinax Pharma was awarded a £489,000 grant from InnovateUK Aid for Start-ups following participation in the ICURe programme in February. The company is already garnering significant interest from several organisations in the pharmaceutical and life science sectors.

Ashley Cooper, CEO at Pertinax Pharma Ltd, said:

“I am looking forward to working with MFM, which has a strong track record of supporting university spinouts across a wide range of sectors. Their investment will help us to scale up the development of Pertinax which, due to its slow release capability, is more suitable to the environment and purpose of its application, and is already receiving interest from potential future partners.”

Pertinax is a particulate form of chlorhexidine (CHX), a widely-used biocide that can kill microbes and bacteria without damaging the contact area. CHX has a variety of uses, from skin and wound care to the treatment of periodontal disease, and is proven to be effective against a range of potentially dangerous microbes, including MRSA and E.coli. Furthermore, because CHX works by disrupting the microbial cell membrane, there is little danger of that microbe developing resistance, making CHX a vital tool in modern medicine.

However, despite its advantages, CHX in its traditional form has a limited window of effectiveness, lasting hours and sometimes only minutes. Pertinax has an unusually low solubility, meaning it can deliver antimicrobial protection in a more controlled way, thus maintaining an antimicrobial environment for much longer periods, as dictated by the clinical need – in some cases, this may be several years.

In its initial uses, Pertinax will help to lower the failure rate of dental fillings following tooth decay. Pertinax will be mixed with the cement material used to fill cavities and will maintain an environment in which bacteria cannot colonise, reducing the risk of filling failure. Currently, around 70% of fillings are replacements for failed fillings, which burden dental practices and patients with heavy costs.

Dr Michele Barbour, Founder & CSO of Pertinax Pharma Ltd, and Senior Lecturer in Dental Materials Science and Biomaterials at the University of Bristol, said:

“We’re very excited about Pertinax’s potential. Our first target market will be in the dental space, where there are a number of important applications of the technology, but in time we expect Pertinax to also find application in medicine, where it will be a very useful tool, particularly as antibiotic resistance becomes more prevalent and doctors turn to non-antibiotic technologies to protect and treat their patients.”

Dr Brijesh Roy, Investment Manager at Mercia Fund Management, said:

“With a strong management team and innovative product, University of Bristol spinout Pertinax Pharma has the potential to take its product from dental tool to a must-have anti-infective across a wide range of industries, from veterinary care, to cosmetics and even home appliances!”

Mercia Technologies, a Midlands-based investment group building, funding and commercialising technology businesses in the UK, is pleased to announce a new direct investment of up to £2.0 million in Oxford Genetics Ltd. Through its expertise in DNA design, Oxford Genetics’ focus is on protein expression optimisation and cell line development to provide bespoke solutions for research, therapeutic and clinical needs within the pharmaceutical industry.

You can read the full stock exchange announcement here.

To find out more, visit the Oxford Genetics website.