Date 21-07-19 09:22
Heuron Accelerates Commercialization of Its Medical Device by Developing a Technology that Helps Diagnosis of Cranial Nerve Diseases
There is a good news for patients suffering from central nervous system diseases like Parkinson’s, stroke and dementia. An AI-based solution that helps early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease has been developed. A solution called 'mPDia' is a never-seen-before diagnostic method developed by Heuron that uses MR images. It is getting a lot of attention because it’s harmless and more cost-effective.
'mPDia', a Solution that Will Make Early Diagnosis of Parkinson’s Possible
Heuron is a company that develops AI-based, assistive diagnostic softwares for central nervous system diseases. Heuron’s key product, 'mPDia' helps early diagnosis of cranial nerves diseases for patients who would otherwise be diagnosed too late because they are not aware of the symptoms of their disease. The imaging biomarker technology behind mPDia is meaningful because it can reduce the time and costs required for new drug development and, helps clinicians quantify the effects of the drugs. Having quantitative standards can significantly increase the success rate of new drug development. Astronomical amounts of money and time go into developing new drugs for cranial nerve diseases but the success rates of these drugs remained as low as 8% due to lack of quantitative evaluation methods and difficulty in recruiting valid patient groups.
Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after dementia. The number of Parkinson’s patients in Korea has continuously increased from about 90,000 patients in 2015 to more than 110,000 patients in 2019. The number is estimated to surpass 120,000 in 2024. Also, it has been very difficult to diagnose the disease early because it required clinicians’ neurological diagnosis and interpretation of PET scans. However, Heuron has developed a MRI-based diagnostic method which has been considered impossible so far. Heuron’s assistive diagnostic software mPDia for Parkinson’s disease has been recognized by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety for its innovative technology and has been designated as an ‘Innovative Medical Device’. Currently, Heuron is in the process of getting the software listed for insurance coverage. Heuron CEO Donghoon Shin believes there will soon be a good news as the clinical trials with 10 university hospitals are in the final stages.
'mPDia' uses its MIR processing technology to visualize the lesions of Parkinson’s disease and its AI deep learning technology to auto-analyze the damages in those regions. Heuron has developed the software to have MRI protocols and pre-processing methods for capturing the lesions and, an AI model for automatically determining the presence of Parkinson’s disease. The software goes beyond modeling huge amounts of data and offers results with outstandingly high accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity. This innovative technology for analyzing images of cranial nerve diseases has been published through 5 SCI papers on renowned journals including Radiology.
The fact that mPDia which uses MRI is more cost-effective than using PET scans for diagnosing Parkinson’s also puts mPDia in an advantageous position in becoming listed for insurance coverage. CEO Shin believes mPDia is a new technology completely different from conventional diagnostic technologies which use PET scans and is confident that mPDia will offer outstanding performance and reduce the diagnostic costs. PET scans which are considered the gold standard for diagnosing Parkinson’s disease normally cost around KRW 1.5 million and cannot be conducted repeatedly because of they use radioisotopes. On the other hand, mPDia uses relatively inexpensive MRI and is a safe technology that use medical imaging which doesn’t require the use of contrast agents. CEO Shin explained that he is preparing for a mPDia clinical trial in the US in the 3rd quarter of 2021. Heuron is also planning to enter the general medical check-up market with this technology.
Focusing on Developing Technologies that Can Actually Help the Patients
Heuron is an R&D company that started from Professor Donghoon Shin’s research. Working as a professor in the Department of Neurology at Gachon University Gil Medical Center, Professor Shin carried out research in cranial nerve diseases. The of Health and Welfare project called “Developing Biomarkers that Increase the Success Rate of New Drug Development for Cranial Nerve Diseases” which he carried out in 2017 became the foundation for starting Heuron. Shin who developed an AI-based imaging biomarker technology that can be used for new drug development, explains that he had decided to commercialize the technology himself because he didn’t want to see this innovative technology get buried.
“Even if great technologies get developed through national projects, if no one pushes those technologies forward with a strong will to commercialize them, those technologies get buried and lost. I founded Heuron because I knew I could commercialize the technology that I believe in.”
It was the desperate feeling he felt towards patients that transformed Shin from a clinician and a professor to an entrepreneur. He says that one out of three patients admitted to hospital for stroke gradually become paralyzed and that he felt tremendously helpless watching that process. The feeling he got from realizing there is nothing he could do, simply made him invest more time in research. When Shin discovered a case where a patient that had gone through a vassopressor therapy got better without any side effect, he became absorbed in research and publishing papers based on various relevant cases, he protocolized a new treatment method.
“I always try to think about research ideas that can actually help the patients. Imaging biomarker is a great diagnostic tool but the problem is that to use this tool effectively, you have to become a highly experienced expert. AI can solve this problem and can benefit more people. That’s why I developed an AI-based assistive diagnostic solution” Shin explained.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Korea and requires accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment within the golden hour. Shin explains that strokes are a race against time and their outcome is better the faster you treat them. The treatment becomes difficult when the golden hour passes. Not only that, neurology and radiology specialists might not be present in emergency rooms. Working with Ajou University Hospital, Heuron has made significant progress in developing an AI diagnostic software for stroke. Heuron plans to supply AI devices that can provide the information necessary for making urgent decisions and analyze data in real-time. Heuron is also carrying out research to develop a stroke imaging method that can replace conventional methods which take too long, make quantitative analysis of the data too difficult and only show the level of brain shrinkage. Shin also added that Heuron is developing a biomarker that can be used to track the progress of strokes
“We are currently in the process of developing a tool that can delay the progress of diseases and reduce complications when used optimally for diagnosis and treatment and that can be used to quantitatively analyze the drug effects and thereby enhance the success rate of new drug development” Shin added.
A Clinician-Led Medical AI Tech Company Headed for the Global Market
“In order for an AI-based medical device to properly perform, we need to collect data. Huge amounts of it. As of yet, there hasn’t been any research about using AI for Parkinson’s disease. But Heuron has already registered a patent on this AI technology.”
There are many companies that carry out research and development for breast and lung-related solutions because the nodules in breasts and lungs are clearly visible and it’s easy to collect relevant data. But, in regards to cranial nerve diseases, even the top global healthcare companies are having a hard time collecting quality data and developing the solutions. In fact, a leading AI-based diagnostic company in Korea has released a diagnostic software for cranial nerve diseases but the demand in the clinical field and the diagnostic accuracy were low because this company had only managed to automate the diagnostic process. Diagnostic softwares for Parkinson’s are basically nonexistent globally.
British AI healthcare technology company Medopad has teamed up with Chinese tech company Tencent to develop a diagnostic software for Parkinson’s but since what they are making is a wearable device that only provides indirect estimates, it’s difficult to say they are competing directly with Heuron. Shin also explained that Heuron has already acquired the baseline and follow-up data on biomarkers used for determining the progress of Parkinson’s disease and that Heuron is carrying out a research to develop the world’s first biomarker for tracking the progress of Parkinson’s disease. Heuron is also planning to get approvals from America’s FDA and Europe’s CE for its assistive diagnostic software. Heuron has already received requests from 2 global healthcare companies wanting to collaborate with us on stroke treatment.
Heuron has secured a foundation for product development by acquiring KRW 3 billion for Series A funding last July and KRW 15.3 billion for Series B funding July this year. Heuron has basically completed preparing for the clinical trials and approval process for their pipelines. Shin explained that Heuron has received a lot of attention because it is an AI-based medical company founded by a clinician and because it specializes in cranial nerve diseases which are highly difficult areas. Using clinical AI, Heuron is currently developing pipelines of solutions for cranial nerve diseases like Parkinson’s disease, stroke and dementia. Shin explained that he has experienced a lot of hardships after starting a business with nothing but his confidence in technology but he fortunately was able to get investments and speed up the technological development process working with great people.
“The ideas became more concrete and refined when I was looking for investments. Starting the business at first, I didn’t know what to do but I gradually broadened my perspective through new experiences and started feeling rewarded seeing the business grow.”
Heuron is aiming for the global market. The growing interest in AI and IT in the COVID-19 pandemic helped Heuron receive a lot of attention. Heuron is currently preparing for a special technology listing on KOSDAQ and for an IPO in the first half of the year after next. Heuron is also aiming to reach KRW 65 billion in sales within 5 years. Heuron believes that the market size of AI-based diagnostic industry is around KRW 400 billion and that it can quickly increase its market share by introducing original, innovative products. Shin is currently developing a business model based on the current trends.
A Company That Grows Based on Technological Originality and People-Centered Values
The most important value in operating Heuron is people for Shin. Instead of focusing on the profit right in front of them, Heuron believes people are the greatest and the most valuable asset. Shin explained that he simply wants to share the fruits of hard work with the employees and to lead the company together with them. This philosophy applies when he’s meeting with his students as well. He believes the students are future colleagues and they must be respected. As a clinician, the problems and regrets he feel treating his patients all go into his research and the research results are applied to the patients.
“I want Heuron to become an example that shows technological originality and people-centered values lead to success. We want to show that the essence and core value are more important than anything else. We also want to ask you to watch us continuously grow” Shin added.