More than 200 million people worldwide suffer from hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a type of thyroid condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain crucial hormones resulting in an increased sensitivity to cold, weight gain, tiredness, and depression.
Many hypothyroidism patients remain undiagnosed, non-compliant with treatment, or on the incorrect medication plan, leading to decreased quality of life, impaired job readiness, and elevated risks of comorbidities and mortality.
HEI Therapeutics is a digital therapeutics company recently admitted to BII’s Venture Lab program. The company is developing the world’s first medical-grade home monitoring solution for patients with hypothyroidism based on state-of-the-art microfluidics, microtechnology and artificial intelligence. The company’s solution, which is being developed in close collaboration with patients and clinicians, empowers patients to better master their condition and provides new digital tools for continuous care.
We sat down with two of the founders, Winnie E. Svendsen and Jesper Kimer, to become more familiar with the company.
What is the key driver for HEI Therapeutics?
There are approximately 200 million people globally suffering from hypothyroidism, many of whom have significantly poorer quality of life than the rest of the population, but there has not been much innovation in treatment, and no digital tools for home-monitoring and personalized treatment are on the market. We want to change that.
What is the idea behind the company?
Winnie: Patients with metabolic diseases are often not properly medicated. I had a friend who needed a different medication when she experienced slower metabolism as a side effect of her cancer treatment. At that time, neither of us understood why it was so difficult to find the right treatment, and it turned out that there are millions of metabolic patients who don’t receive proper treatment worldwide, and it is a huge societal problem. Thus, we started to investigate the issue. Through different grants provided by DTU, we have scientific data suggesting that we can offer a solution providing better treatment for this group of patients.
Jesper: I have been part of developing patient-focused digital health offerings in related industries and seen the power of patient empowerment firsthand. It moves the needle in terms of medical compliance and health outcomes. A big benefit of digital solutions is more and real-time patient data, which we believe will enable individualized treatment and continuous care in the field long-term.
Proper tools are not available for patients with hypothyroidism today. When you look at diabetes, another metabolic disease, tools have been developed over the last ten years by Novo Nordisk and other large companies. Those tools have significantly improved the treatment of diabetes patients. Those patients have gained greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health, which should also be a reality for patients suffering the consequences of hypothyroidism. It would be fantastic if we could make a significant difference for hundreds of millions of hypothyroidism patients.
What are you focusing on in the Venture Lab program, and what would be the optimal outcome after 12 months?
We focus on finalizing the technology and device prototype to initiate pre-clinical trials in hospital settings with key collaboration partners, such as leading physicians, to build clinical evidence. Based on those learnings, we will reiterate the device design to optimize it for patient usability and regulatory approvals. Secondly, we are building a digital solution together with key partners, where patients can track hormone levels, wellbeing, and symptoms to make it easier to optimize their treatment in collaboration with clinicians.”
How do you differ from your competitors?
A key strength is that we have developed a method to detect the thyroid hormone that controls our metabolism through a tiny chip made with patented technology, initially developed at DTU Bioengineering. Another strength is our cross-functional founder team with a technical, clinical, and commercial co-founder and partnerships that enable us to test and verify the impact of our technology in clinical settings.
Why do you believe there has been much innovation within diabetes, but not in the space you operate?
It’s probably a combination of things. Medication for hypothyroidism is cheap, which lowers the incentive for innovation. Also, the consequence of untreated diabetes is much more severe in the short term than hypothyroidism. The technology for measuring glycose levels is more straightforward than the technology needed to measure thyroid hormones. Also, the solution we need to build needs to support long-term monitoring across many aspects that affect the metabolism, including medication, nutrition, sleep, exercise, and individual traits. It’s frustrating for patients when they don’t know why they are feeling sick. Hopefully, we can provide them with answers to why they are suffering.
How have clinicians and patients responded to your technology?
We have seen strong interest from patients and clinicians. Patients find great comfort in self-monitoring to check whether they are correctly medicated, and they are looking for tools to understand better and act to improve their wellbeing. Clinicians are interested in understanding how the patient’s metabolism varies both during a day and over longer periods of time and being better able to correlate that with patient-reported input on symptoms and wellbeing, which can provide them with a better chance to optimize the patient’s treatment plan.
Tony Cheng-fu Chang, Senior Business Developer at BioInnovation Institute, says the following about HEI Therapeutics:
“HEI Therapeutics endeavors to solve the long-standing challenge in healthcare where there is simply a lack of insight for chronic disease patients to manage their conditions in-between follow-up visits better. Through developing an at-home monitoring solutions platform, the company is paving the way for better personalized management and treatment of chronic conditions for millions of patients worldwide, starting with thyroid-related conditions. HEI Therapeutics consists of a dedicated team with complementary skill sets that combine deep technical expertise and a true get-stuff-done mentality, and the BII is extremely proud to be supporting HEI Therapeutics in its journey.”