Could you share some of the major milestones in Bulbitech’s history?

When I joined Bulbitech in 2019, we were producing prototypes at a technology readiness level (TRL) of four or five. My focus was on getting these prototypes to potential clinical users, so we partnered with specialized eye hospitals in Norway and conducted clinical testing at Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital in India. This allowed us to gather feedback on both our hardware and software and make improvements.

One of our main goals was to involve eye doctors in the company, and we achieved that by having a chief medical officer who is an eye doctor. This ensures that what we develop makes clinical sense and is supported by medical professionals.

Moving from TRL four to seven or eight, we expect to obtain CE approval by the end of Q4 2020, which is a significant milestone for any medtech company.

Can you explain the technology behind Bulbitech and the problem you are addressing?

Bulbitech offers diagnostic support through eye tracking, primarily in the neuro-ophthalmic field. Often, when patients visit hospitals, there may not be a neuro-ophthalmologist available, or they face long waiting times after traveling long distances. To solve this problem, we developed the Bulbicam, an eye-tracking camera that connects to the Bulbihub software on a workstation. This combination can be used anywhere, with data being sent to a neuro-ophthalmologist in different locations. It extends the reach of neuro-ophthalmologists and makes their expertise available to patients locally, eliminating the need for extensive travel.

We have developed three tests that can be conducted using Bulbihub: a visual field test based on eye movement perimetry, a pupil test for glaucoma patients with pupil defects, and a ptosis test that detects droopy eyelids, which can be a symptom of glaucoma. These tests enable early-stage screening for glaucoma, an area of focus for both optometry and ophthalmology.

What is the timeline for bringing Bulbitech to the market, and what is your international strategy?

Our timeline to market is straightforward. We have two remaining activities to become CE approved: electrical safety testing and a supplier audit for our external manufacturer. These are low-risk steps, as we have already tested previous prototypes for electrical safety, and our manufacturer is ISO-13485 certified. Therefore, we anticipate launching in Q1 2021.

We have already signed letters of intent with distributors in Nordic countries and Western Europe. Additionally, we are seeking further commercial activities through our series A investment proposition and applying for a fast track to innovation grant under the EU’s Horizon 2020 program. We are also in early-stage discussions with a large optician chain interested in using our technology.

Is it challenging to secure investment in Norway, considering the relatively underdeveloped medtech sector? How do you educate investors about Bulbitech and its technology?

Norway is a favorable country to start projects, particularly in the pre-seed and seed stages. There are many angel investors and well-organized angel networks who are willing to commit once they understand the problem and the potential solution. The country also offers national incentives for investments, such as tax returns, making it an attractive landscape for investors in the early stages.

However, as a company progresses to later stages, it becomes more challenging in Norway due to its small population and limited specialized medtech and biotech venture capitalists (VCs) or private equity. Major investments often come through investment bankers with international networks or syndication partners. Although there are potential investors in the field, finding investment can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Moreover, many investment banks in Norway traditionally focus on more established industries like forestry, agriculture, fishing, and oil and gas. Educating them about the steps required to become a mature medtech company is necessary and an aspect that could be improved in Norway.

The Nordic countries have a strong research footprint in neuro-ophthalmology. How is Bulbitech collaborating with consortiums or research groups in the region, leveraging its geographic position?

 Initially, entering the clinical landscape in Norway was challenging. However, we are now in talks with promising partners, including Oslo University Hospital and Helgeland Hospital in Northern Norway. These institutions are interested in our technology, and we are close to signing a cooperation agreement with Helgeland Hospital.

We have also been approached by a neurologist at St. Olav’s University Hospital, a renowned neurological center that has even won a Nobel Prize. While their research differs from ours, the collaboration will become easier once we obtain CE approval.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, diagnostics were often overlooked in the life sciences value chain. Do you see this changing, and how do you plan to raise awareness of the importance of diagnostics in neuro-ophthalmology?

There has been a significant focus on therapeutics in recent years, which is understandable. However, for patients to access therapeutics, accurate diagnosis is crucial. Diagnostics has been somewhat overlooked, but it doesn’t mean it cannot be improved. In areas with a shortage of medical professionals like neuro-ophthalmology, diagnostics companies can play a vital role, especially as the demand rises due to aging populations and professional shortages.

Big Pharma will be instrumental in driving the shift towards recognizing the importance of diagnostics. With their substantial capital, they can raise awareness on a larger scale. In our case, Big Pharma is increasingly interested in eye movement perimetry, opening up opportunities for collaboration and growth.

What is the potential for Bulbitech in partnering with Big Pharma companies focusing on ophthalmology treatments?

Dennis Hens: There is immense potential for partnerships with Big Pharma companies. For example, research shows that early-stage drugs for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s can have an impact on eye movement, which our device can detect. Diagnostics companies like ours have the opportunity to partner with pharma companies developing drugs for both the eye and the brain. Our focus lies in the physiological aspects of the eye and how it responds to data interpretation and light, affecting eye movements.

The Norwegian National Health and Hospital plan for 2020-2023 emphasizes the digitalization of healthcare. What opportunities does this present for Bulbitech?

The plan presents an opportunity for us because Norway is starting to look at the entire supply chain. While the country is currently hospital-focused, there is a growing understanding of the need to outsource diagnostics. Concentrating all diagnostics within hospitals is not the most efficient approach, as Norwegians prefer living, working, and studying in their local communities. The culture is more conducive to conducting diagnostics locally and remotely.

Establishing a data-driven infrastructure is crucial. Norwegian hospitals tend to be introverted, focusing on improving their own facilities rather than collaborating with primary care professionals and opticians to share data and make better decisions. Hospitals should become better integrated into the value chain, creating a patient-centered flow rather than the existing supply-demand dynamic. Bulbitech sees major opportunities in connecting to the central system being developed in Norway.

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