Med-tech vying for attention in Jordan

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A slip of the finger, or a movement too quick, and a healthcare professional can find themselves with a needlestick injury.

That is what young practice nurse Ziad Abu Ayyash saw happen to two seasoned nurses in one shift. And it wasn't down to slippery fingers, the instruments they were using were not 100 percent foolproof.

The care of others is a surprisingly risky business at times. The puncturing of the skin can be a frequent incident when conducting the common procedure of hooking a patient up intravenously (IV).

Devastating results can often occur. The result can sometimes mean being infected with Hepatitis B and HIV.

Research shows that worldwide up to three million healthcare workers are exposed to injury each year. Out of those, up to 80,000 are infected annually. This can lead to a loss of job, family, and even life.

Abu Ayyash says that getting those workers then tested creates a "lab test bill" of $4.5 billion.

To the drawing board

“I decided to use my skills as an industrial designer to end this misery,” the young Jordanian said.

Abu Ayyash, a nurse by profession, set about educating himself in product design. He eventually left healthcare behind and launched himself as a freelance product designer.

He never stopped working on improving the “safety cannula” found on the market and used in most medical situations.

The commonly used 'safety cannula'
The sannulas. (Images via Ziad Abu Ayyash)

The safety cannula, a device that reduces blood spillage when a needle is inserted, and then removed. The current versions on the market are not perfect though. And this is what Abu Ayyash is working to improve.

The
‘Sannula’, as he calls it, takes this already available cannula and instead of a two-way valve has a four-way valve, thus reducing the spilling out of blood as the needle is removed from the vein.

When the needle is finally removed, and the needle itself is pulled back manually, (unlike the current cannula which sees a little button automatically pulling back the needle) within a cocoon, so as to prevent the loss of the vein, as well as further exposure to cutting oneself.

The challenges

Even though he now has a working prototype and is looking to sell the rights to his device, it has taken Abu Ayyash five years to get to where he is today and he is not bashful in saying that he feels the region lacks support.

Despite winning fifth place against 130 other inventors from the region at the Arab Innovation Network 2013 conference and receiving help and funding from Jordan’s Applied Scientific Research Fund (ASRF), including for financing for registering his patents, he moved to Europe to do his prototyping.

He spent two months incubated at CEEI Provence in France earlier this year.

The Sannula device
With no name yet for his startup, Sannula is the buzz word.

Abu Ayyash and business manager Qatari Hala Abas, have their prototype ready to go and are actively looking for a buyer to their product rights.

The founder though is still annoyed at the situation. “My greatest pain is that I can easily reach those outside Jordan,” he tells Wamda. “The Ministry of Health, for example, they should be involved. I just cannot reach them.”

An aversion to hardware

In the Middle East the numbers for how much could be made from medical hardware startups are not available. If you were to compare to the US or Europe the number of digital health startups have been small in number, for both software and hardware, but some have been successful.

However, even globally, hardware startups, no matter their field, are often left in the wings.

Keeping track of copious medication is a headache. (Image via Wisegeek.com)

As recently as 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that medical device startups were “squeezed by a venture-capital drought”.

MENA investors are certainly very reticent when it comes to looking at them as a serious option.

“Out of the 300 [science project] applicants we have had, only four have been in the medical field,” says ASRF’s project coordinator Noor Al Jabiri.

Amman-based VC Dash Ventures’ Omar Sati agrees that hardware in general is suffering from a lack of interest.

“Hardware is capital intensive,” he says. “It requires extensive R&D and testing, which takes years. During that time, you are in the hole millions of dollars, sometimes with no end in sight. Very risky.”

“Basically anything that isn’t ICT is difficult,” says Serene Duwayri, manager at Amman’s iPark. “[Medical devices are] not seen as exciting, it’s not an easy market, investors don’t understand it.”

But Jordan does have a starting point

By September MIND Tareq Makhalfeh and his cofounder Nada Khatib will have set up office in Amman’s Ipark. They designed an automated pill dispenser, and will be the technology incubator’s first medical device startup.

Their device MIND (Mini Intelligent and Nearby Dispenser), is still in simulation stage but has already attracted attention. Earlier this year they found themselves as finalists at the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) led by the US State Department.

MeMed's MIND pill dispenser
A rendering of Memeds’ MIND. (Image via MeMeds)

As with Abu Ayyah, ASRF have provided the funding for patents in US, Gulf, Jordan and Europe. But perhaps MIND have had better luck in their search for local support.

Makhalfeh and Khatib, whose startup takes the name MeMeds, won a grant from the SRTD-II program of the Higher Council of Science & Technology in Jordan. In collaboration with the EU Commission to support R&D in Jordan, the council awarded them 31,000 euros (around US$35,800) to help establish themselves and build “a proof of concept prototype over the next 10 months”.

For nurse-turned-designer Abu Ayyash the difficult journey doesn’t dissuade him, as far as he’s concerned his device is the golden ticket to the IV market. “It’s the most functional and safe IV access ever created,” he told Wamda. “I might be too much cocky but I have tested every single one, and it is.”

 

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