Quantum optical sensors for non-invasive, accurate and continuous glucose monitoring.
NIQS Tech (Leeds) Limited is a spin-out from Leeds University, and was founded from the leading research groups of Prof. Gin Jose and Dr Almut Beige. NIQS’ sole focus is developing a truly non-invasive, continuous, and accurate glucose sensor.
NIQS developed their technology after seeing the limitations with the current solutions in the market, such as finger prick (blood) tests and the continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) that people wear on their upper arms. These current practices are supposed to help people living with diabetes maintain close glycemic control. However, the drawbacks associated with these practices tend to deter people from making frequent glucose measurements, which is core to good diabetes management. Ultimately, this increases the risk of nasty complications or other negative impacts on a person’s health, and increases the burden on healthcare providers.
NIQS’ optical-based sensor enables a more proactive and user-friendly approach to diabetes management; one that does not require needles to draw blood samples or any other invasive measurement process. Accessible and user-friendly solutions that encourage frequent glucose measurements will support better management practices, which will reduce the likelihood of complications and reduce the impact of diabetes on individuals and healthcare providers, such as the NHS. Our programme manager, Emily Vipond from the RSC, caught up with NIQS’s co-founder, Nicholas Furtak-Wells, to find out what they have been up to since winning the 2023 Emerging Technologies Competition in the Health category.
What have you been up to since winning the competition?
NIQS are currently developing and improving their technology, and Nicholas says ‘our starting point was a large setup which utilised big, bulky laboratory-grade equipment and occupied an entire optics table. Our recent efforts have significantly reduced our form factor down to a handheld-sized device with a 5x increase in the signal-to-noise ratio. This device enabled the team to move into ex-vivo (outside the living body) testing using porcine (pig) skin, as the dorsal site of pig ears represents the area of porcine tissue with the highest similarity to human skin. These studies demonstrated a 95.3% measurement accuracy across a broad range of glucose concentrations (0-450mg/dL), which is sufficient for commercialisation and already far exceeds the accuracy of the first commercially available continuous glucose monitors.
The quality and accuracy of this data gave great confidence to our clinical advisory board who are supporting NIQS’ efforts to move into human studies. Our focus now is finalising the necessary paperwork so the team can begin generating clinical data through in-vivo (within the living body) studies in a real-life environment, which we anticipated to conduct towards the end of Q1 2024.
NIQS’ efforts have been supported in combination by grant funding from Innovate UK grant and equity investment from SFC Capital and an value-add angel investor. The team are aiming to raise further investment following the results from their testing in mid to late 2024.
On looking at the future goals of the company, Nicholas says, ‘raising that money will mean we can progress down both the technology readiness level and the manufacturing readiness level, and accelerate our time to market.’ He goes on to explain, ‘the funding will enable us to conduct larger scale clinical studies to support our progress down our chosen regulatory pathway. This will enable us to engage with the regulatory bodies to understand what evidence from our clinical data they need to see in order for us to move to the next stage and ultimately secure regulatory approval.’
What made you apply to the Emerging Technologies Competition?
NIQS applied in 2022 and were shortlisted as finalists. However, they later had to pull out. Nicholas considers this, ‘it probably worked out for the best, because we might not have won last year. But we reapplied. We had scaled our technology down to handheld size, generated some very strong ex-vivo data and filed a new patent. All these things fell into place by not being able to do it last year.’
What did you like best about taking part in the Emerging Technologies Competition?
Nicholas says, ‘I really enjoyed the opportunity to get on stage and pitch to a panel of industry experts who are working in medical technology, healthcare, or pharmaceutical companies. Being able to be questioned and get feedback from them is priceless.’ Nicholas adds, ‘the networking side of it was all really fun, being able to chat to people over lunch and in the coffee breaks.’
What advice would you give to anyone looking to apply to the 2024 Emerging Technologies Competition?
Nicholas breaks his advice into three sections. Firstly, he says, ‘I recommend starting as early as possible because the sooner you start, you can start to figure out the areas that you don't know and you can get additional input from colleagues to make the written application as strong as possible.’ Secondly, ‘on the pitch side: practice, practice, practice. You’re then more familiar and comfortable with the material and less likely it'll be thrown off if something unexpected happens.’ Lastly, ‘modelling and preparing some practice Q&A. I tried to look at my pitch and think “If I was a judge, what would I try to pick out? What would I try to find out more about?”.’
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Read about what our 2023 winners have been up to since winning.