17 July 2023
Founded in 2019, Galway-based Luminate Medical is emerging as a shining star in the prevention and treatment of side-effects related to cancer therapies.
Cancer is a major area of research in the world of medical technologies. But a lot of the innovation around the disease, the incidence of which has grown steadily in recent decades, focuses on curing the disease itself: from early detection through non-invasive methods and identification, genetic testing to the use of AI to help pharma companies develop drugs.
But relatively little time and effort goes into addressing the fallout from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. “Everyone knows that sudden hair loss means cancer,” Bárbara Oliveira, a biomedical engineer with a PhD in oncology, tells SiliconRepublic.com.
“What you might not know is that cancer care can also mean irreversible nerve damage to your hands and feet, affecting your job or your chances of sustaining a life-extending drug. Or that it can mean early-onset menopause, infertility and lifelong chronic pain.”
To tackle some of these issues, Oliveira has teamed up with Aaron Hannon and Prof Martin O’Halloran to co-found Galway-based Luminate Medical, a healthcare start-up that is developing novel medical devices that aim to eliminate the side-effects of cancer treatments.
CEO Hannon is an engineer who previously worked as a researcher at the Translational Medical Device Lab (TMD) at University Hospital Galway, while chief scientific adviser O’Halloran is a professor of medical electronics at the University of Galway, as well as director of both the BioInnovate programme and TMD.
A $36bn global opportunity
Originally from Lisbon, Oliveira moved to Galway many years ago to complete a PhD in the development of new breast cancer detection modalities. She soon became the lead clinical engineer in a regulated clinical trial for a new breast cancer imaging modality at University Hospital Galway, where she met her co-founders before taking over as CTO of Luminate.
“Together we shared a passion for addressing big quality-of-life problems with big impacts for patients, and identified how severe cancer treatment side effects can be,” Oliveira said.
Luminate has two devices in development: Lily and Lilac. Lily, which is undergoing clinical trials this year, aims to reduce hair loss during chemotherapy “in a comfortable and portable way” while Lilac focuses on peripheral neuropathy induced by the treatment method.
“Cancer incidence rates have steadily kept on increasing for the last number of decades. Despite new advances in cancer treatment, chemotherapy remains the ultimate line of defence, and with it come several side effects that affect patients’ livelihoods and quality of life,” Oliveira went on.
“Five out of seven currently available antibody drug conjugates approved to treat cancer have side effects like hair loss. Our products are suitable for any patient, anywhere in the world, going through chemotherapy, with a combined $36bn global opportunity for Lily and Lilac.”
Both devices are based on a novel approach called localised compression therapy, which prevents chemotherapy from targeting healthy, non-cancerous cells in the human body. This prevents side-effects and ensures chemotherapy drugs focus on only the problematic fast-dividing cells and not other ones such as hair, nerves and gastrointestinal lining.
Victories and Times Square nudge
Luminate’s ultimate goal is to revolutionise the patient experience of cancer treatment. “We envision a world where technology makes cancer care a personalised, at-home procedure that heals a person, not just a disease,” Oliveira continued. “That vision requires hardware to make the delivery and management of cancer treatment a human-centred experience.”
Since its establishment in 2019, Luminate has come a long way with seed funding of more than $5m, several competitive grants and even the launch of a clinical trial for Lily, getting the ball rolling on partnerships with suppliers, hospitals, clinicians, patients and investors.
An alumnus of Y Combinator 2021, Luminate has won two Enterprise Ireland DTIF grants for the development of Lily and Lilac. Most recently, the high-potential start-up took home the Alex Casta Audience Award at the EIT Health Catapult competition finals in 2022. Soon after, a message of congratulations and their logo appeared on the Nasdaq Tower in Times Square.
Luminate was also one of four Irish medtech start-ups to win a total of €18m in prize funding following their participation in the European Innovation Centre accelerator programme.
“At Luminate, that’s what we do – build the products and tools that improve patients’ quality of life during and after treatment,” Oliveira said. “We have built a fantastic team of 16 who share the same ambition and commitment towards our mission.”
Source: Silicon Republic