INESC TEC’s spin-off wins EUR 2 million in the largest European medtech competition

A spin-off of INESC TEC, iLoF, was one of the winners of the Wild Card programme, a European acceleration programme for disruptive healthcare projects, ensuring a EUR 2 million investment by an international consortium. Using Artificial Intelligence and Photonics to allow the development of a treatment for the Alzheimer’s disease was the goal of the startup composed of Joana Paiva (C-BER/FCUP), Luís Valente (C-BER), Paula Sampaio (I3S/FCUP) and Mehak Mumtaz (Oxford University).

More specifically, iLoF created a portable and comprehensive system that will allow to create a “fingerprint” library of several neurodegenerative diseases, thus ensuring rapid, minimally invasive and portable tests in diseases such as Parkinson’s or brain tumours – using only microlitres of blood.

This project resulted from a long and valuable collaboration between two INESC TEC’s centres (C-BER and CAP) and the external cooperation with two i3S institutes (IBMC, IPATIMUP). In addition to the advances achieved by the researchers of the Centre for Applied Photonics (CAP) in the optics and photonics fields, in a work that involved several national and international projects since 2005 for the development of the microscale manipulation technology (optical fibre tweezers), there are now advanced techniques developed in the signal processing and Artificial Intelligence fields designed, from the outset, by the researchers of C-BER.

This cooperation between centres and institutions culminated in this project and the creation of “smart” optical fibre tools for the analysis of biological dispersions containing different populations of moving nanometric extracellular vesicles, arising from the NanoSTIMA projects, funded by N2020 with approximately EUR 7.2 million and the PhD of the researcher Joana Paiva, supervised by João Paulo Cunha, coordinator and researcher of C-BER, and Pedro Jorge, researcher of CAP, with contributions from Paula Sampaio from i3S and Carla Rosa, a researcher of CAP.

Following several technical proofs of concept, the developed technology has gone through several development phases in the innovation and technology transfer processes, thus leading to the submission of a national and European patent application, with the crucial support of the Technology Licensing Office (SAL), coordinated by Catarina Maia, also from INESC TEC.

For a six-month period, the startup was accelerated by Wild Card, a programme organised by EIT Health, designed to support highly disruptive projects addressing the world’s major health challenges. Among hundreds of projects and after an intense technical and market validation that included Bootcamps and Hackathons in several European cities, the team received mentoring and advice from experts of the global industry who helped in guiding the project. Among the mentors assigned to the team there are experts from CIMIT, a US consortium composed of the Harvard Medical School, MIT, among others.

The programme culminated in a final that was held in Munich, in which the team won before a panel of international investors, ensuring a EUR 2 million investment in order to accelerate the startup’s growth plan.

At the moment, the startup, which is incubated between the laboratories of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto, UPTEC and BioCat in Barcelona, Spain, can have EIT Health as an investor, which is the largest healthcare consortium in the world, born from a public-private partnership between the European Institute of Technology and hundreds of healthcare industry partners across Europe.

In the meantime, iLoF has collected other awards and distinctions. On 13 November, iLoF received EUR 50 000 from the Altice International Innovation Awards (AIIA) of 2019 and also EUR 5 000 from the Born from Knowledge award, which was promoted by the Portuguese National Innovation Agency (ANI). In addition to the monetary prize, the spin-off of INESC TEC ensured the possibility of developing tests with the Altice group in order to confirm the potential of the blood analysis prototypes.

In Latvia, more specifically at the Digital Freedom Festival, iLoF won the award for best startup in the competition organised by the Dutch accelerator Rockstart, thus being one step away from participating in the next six-month programme, which provides access to a prize worth EUR 20 000, an office space worth EUR 80 000 and more than 50 support tools for business development worth EUR 100 000.

iLoF also received in Latvia the 1st Prize at the EIT Jumpstarter, the prestigious programme developed by the European Institute of Technology, adding a EUR 10 000 monetary prize to the distinction for the best startup in the Health category.

The researchers mentioned in this news piece are associated with INESC TEC, FEUP – UP and FCUP-UP.

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