Classroom concept turned successful startup raises $1.25 million to help babies breathe

Ventora Medical’s journey started in 2018 at the University of Melbourne, where cofounders Edward Buijs, Amy Yu and Alan Haszard were brought together through the BioDesign Innovation subject as part of their Master of Engineering (Biomedical with Business) and Master of Business Administration degrees.

Edward Buijs, Professor David Grayden and Amy Yu standing in Law Building conference room
Edward Buijs, Professor David Grayden and Amy Yu 

"The BioDesign Innovation program teaches that a well-characterised need is the DNA of great medical device innovation," explains Edward Buijs, CEO of Ventora Medical. "We spoke to clinicians and observed their day to day practice to gain a detailed understanding of their pain points before developing a solution."

"Through this process we discovered that even though a baby’s lungs are necessary for life, they are actually one of the last structures to finish developing during pregnancy. This means that a large proportion of preterm infants require some form of breathing support to survive.

"When we observed clinical practice in the neonatal intensive care unit, our team identified an unmet need to improve non-invasive respiratory support treatment."

The BioDesign Innovation program teaches that a well-characterised need is the DNA of great medical device innovation

While systems such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and high flow nasal cannula (HFNC) are the gold standard for non-invasive respiratory support, leaks in the system, which can occur at the nose, mouth and stomach, mean that not all of the air provided by these devices actually reaches the lungs. This forces clinicians to rely on clinical signs and symptoms which can be delayed and confusing.

"Our device works by monitoring the airway pressure in real time, so that the clinician has accurate and clear clinical information. The device enables tailored treatment with minimal change in clinical practice and doesn’t add any invasiveness to the patient. Providing this extra information to clinicians will be really important to close the gap between intervention and clinical outcome," explains Ventora Medical CTO Amy Yu.

Since completing the BioDesign Innovation course in 2018, Ventora has turned their macroscale proof of concept device developed during university into a functioning ‘to scale’ proof of concept device that will soon be tested in preclinical and early clinical studies.

Edward, Amy and a healthcare worker using their device on a model of a baby

Ventora Medical has also recently completed the MedTech Actuator, an Asia-Pacific wide venture backed accelerator program for medtech startups, raising over $1.25 million in funding. Even COVID-19 couldn’t impede their success, with a successful investment raise in the midst of the global pandemic.

"The continued support from the University of Melbourne has played an important part in the progress and success of our start-up," says Edward.

It is so important that research is able to be effectively translated out of our universities into impactful products and services which transform the way we care for patients, not just here in Australia, but around the world

In 2019 Ventora Medical, in conjunction with research partner the Royal Women’s Hospital, received a $15,000 research grant at the annual HealthTech Innovation Challenge held by the Graeme Clark Institute. The HealthTech Innovation Challenge is just one initiative by the University designed to develop the translation of research with applications that will lead to improvements in health outcomes.

"Australia has a long and distinguished track record of health and medical research excellence. It is so important that research is able to be effectively translated out of our universities into impactful products and services which transform the way we care for patients, not just here in Australia, but around the world," says Edward.

The team at Ventora believe that the key to unlocking more translation of research, particularly in the healthcare space, is to encourage greater collaboration between researchers and clinicians.

Amy believes that collaboration is a vital ingredient in the startup’s success.

"At Ventora we have been blessed to share our ideas and work with world class clinicians and healthcare professionals. Collaborating with them has allowed us to really focus on their needs to develop a device which they are excited to implement into their practice.

"Helping premature babies breathe is what drives our team to succeed. Ultimately, our goal is to empower clinicians through innovation and set new standards of neonatal care."

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Master of Engineering (Biomedical with Business)