Under the microscope: how Hooke Bio found success

17.08.21. Former UL Post Graduate, Finola Cliffe. Picture: Alan Place
Image Source: https://globalambition.ie/hooke-bio-under-the-microscope/

The brilliant 17th-century scientist Robert Hooke proved an unlikely source of inspiration for an ambitious MedTech company in Shannon.

“Robert Hooke was the incredible mind behind Hooke’s Law and early microscopy advances. Despite facing many challenges in his life, he was determined and truly ground-breaking in his fields. We see some of ourselves in him,” beamed COO of Hooke Bio, Dr Finola Cliffe.

Finola has 15 years’ experience in cell culture. In 2014, she joined Hooke Bio, where she now leads a team of scientists and engineers developing technology for 3D microtissues. This technology has the potential to replace the need for animal testing and provide more accurate testing models.

“It’s fantastic being part of a small company with good intentions. But we often wonder where the next segment of funding is coming from,” Finola says.

Forging a new path

The team was initially based at the University of Limerick and it was here they received their first investment under the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund. By August 2016, this additional support allowed Finola to successfully develop a working prototype. Her team now faced a new challenge.

“It took us months to get hold of usable data. Then it dawned on me, ‘this is going somewhere but we don’t have enough runway.’” she says.

While the first fund allowed the team to build a working prototype, a second would allow them to take things further again. In 2017, the team successfully secured a second Commercialisation Fund to build a more robust prototype on a larger scale. Even with new financial support, Finola was still concerned.

“We knew technology. But we were green behind the ears in how to market a product. This was a massive challenge for us to overcome. We needed to understand how to position ourselves – the funding helped with this and was the first stepping stone.”

Leaping into the unknown

Through the Enterprise Ireland mentorship programme, Terry Sullivan, former MD of Clonmel Healthcare, was enlisted to help with the next step – selling the idea. He, along with Prof. Mark Davies, the founder of Hooke Bio, devised a plan around costs and milestones with the team.

The Transfer Technology Offices (TTO) became more involved. They’re responsible for technology transfer and aspects of research commercialisation at universities. Working closely with Enterprise Ireland, TTO contacted experts who could share further insights into larger pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Novartis and AstraZeneca.

“It was a steep learning curve but we learned a lot during this time. We were beginning to understand how to best pitch ideas to research and development units. The Market Research Centre was like gold dust for us,” says Finola.

As part of Enterprise Ireland, the Market Research Centre offered access to free reports that would typically cost thousands of Euros. This provided important knowledge on the competition and proved crucial in seeking investment.

Reaching the masses

The team eventually finished a business plan and began networking with potential investors in Ireland. The media was one way to be heard.

“We got our name out there, did interviews with journalists and told our story. It was something new to us, but our confidence grew,” she says.

Finola noticed that investors were becoming more familiar with the company. Having won the Big Idea Showcase in 2017, even more investors came forward.

“We were getting a lot of traction and that was worth an awful lot to us. We have grown so much since the initial funding.”

Finding a new home

It wasn’t long until the team secured its initial investor funding and spun out of the University of Limerick. However, more funding would be needed to secure new premises and set up labs.

In early 2019, after the team secured disruptive technology and innovation funding, they moved to Shannon. Their new premises contain offices, engineering labs, and workshops, making it an entirely self-sufficient business.

“We don’t need to outsource anything, which is quite unusual for a company of our size,” she says. “We can make all our prototypes in-house – we can mill stainless steel, acrylic, mostly any material we want. A lot of components are needed when testing.”

Believing in yourself

Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund has opened up a world of opportunities for Finola and her team, helping them on a path to success.

The company has just completed its second round of investment and released two new patents. In Jan 2019, Hooke Bio won €1.9m in the first round of funding through the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund, in collaboration with The Centre for Advanced Photonics and Process Analysis and NUI, Galway.

For anyone thinking of embarking on a new journey with Enterprise Ireland, Finola has some advice: “Communication is everything. If you’re unsure of next steps, just go for it and pick up the phone – if you don’t try, you’ll never know”.

Article Credit: https://globalambition.ie/hooke-bio-under-the-microscope/


UL Spin Out Companies win €6.9 million big under disruptive technology fund

Image Source: https://www.ul.ie/news/ul-spin-out-companies-win-eu69-million-big-under-disruptive-technology-fund
Two UL spin out companies were recipients of a significant proportion of the recently announced Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund. Cala Medical and Hooke Bio, both linked to the Bernal Institute, UL, have each led consortia that received a total of €6.9M of the €70M funding announced. In addition, UL researchers were also successful in the fund with numerous awards for Lero Irish Software Research Centre and a grant to Allihies Seafood Company and Carbery involving Prof Dick Fitzgerald, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Limerick.

Cala Medical are leading a consortium including Curran Scientific and UL entitled “Therapeutic enzymes as a treatment for sepsis and other immune disorder diseases”. The consortium was awarded €5M. Dr. Sarah Hudson, Department of Chemical Sciences, is leading UL’s collaboration on this project.

This consortium has a disruptive technology, Cytoflow5, for the treatment of sepsis. The technology will be further expanded to disrupt areas currently dominated by monoclonal antibodies and thus disrupt the   biologics area. This will result in a panel of new therapies for the   treatment of diseases including sepsis, psoriasis, arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Hooke Bio are leading a consortium that includes CIT, CAPPA, NUIG entitled “High throughput microfluidic drug screening platform”. The consortium was awarded €1.9M.

Image Source: https://www.ul.ie/news/ul-spin-out-companies-win-eu69-million-big-under-disruptive-technology-fund

The HookeBio platform is a disruptive technology that will allow pharma companies and clinicians to develop more accurate and responsive disease models for drug testing and may be expanded to testing of existing therapies on individual patient’s disease samples.

Both Cala Medical and Hooke Bio spun out of the University of Limerick in 2017.

Cala Medical is a medical device company located in the UL Nexus Innovation Centre developing new therapies for sepsis, a severe life-threatening syndrome that kills more than 6 million people worldwide each year and was a causative factor in 60% of all in hospital deaths in Ireland in 2013. Sepsis causes more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined and there are very few new therapies in the pipeline.

Cala Medical was co-founded by Dr Brian Noonan and UL researchers Dr Todd Kagawa and Dr Jakki Cooney with funding from angel investors and Enterprise Ireland. Todd and Jakki have collaborated for many years on the fundamental science that underpins Cala Medical, while Brian has spent most of his career in the USA working on infectious disease therapies in the pharmaceutical industry.

Hooke Bio is a new drug screening technologies company operating in the preclinical to early stages of drug discovery. Hooke Bio draws its strength from the close co-operation it has between its team of biologists and engineers. The engineer’s design, test and optimise new microfluidic technology: the scientists apply the technology to finding new therapeutic uses for existing drugs.

Hooke Bio was founded by UL’s Prof Mark Davies, Dr Mark Lyons and Dr Finola Cliffe. Prof Mark Davies previously co-founded Stokes Bio which, in one of the biggest university spinout acquisitions in the history of the state, was acquired by Life Technologies in 2010 for US$44 million.

Article Source: https://www.ul.ie/news/ul-spin-out-companies-win-eu69-million-big-under-disruptive-technology-fund


Create a chain reaction among start-ups

We need to make more noise about biotech entrepreneurs.

To give you a picture of how little understood the sector is – from an entrepreneurial perspective – I’d like to point out one of my favourite entrepreneurs to emerge from the Limerick region: Prof Mark Davies. Davies, an academic from the UK who came to University of Limerick (UL) 27 years ago to lecture, along with fellow mechanical engineer and research colleague Dr Tara Dalton, founded Stokes Bio in 2006 to provide genetic analysis systems for the agri-food industry.

The technology, built around newly invented microfluidic systems to enable rapid genetic analysis, quickly attracted venture capital funding. Stokes Bio was sold in 2010 to a US company called Life Technologies, which was then acquired by Thermo Fisher for $13.6bn in 2015.

GenCell, a spin-out of Stokes Bio – which enabled the processing of DNA data at unprecedented speeds – led by one of Davies’ former students, Dr Kieran Curran, was sold to Becton Dickinson in 2015 for $150m.

Having major successes such as the sale of Stokes Bio and GenCell is just as big as any successful sale of a software company in Dublin, for example, but no one seems to be talking up the Limerick region’s potential.

Davies is back at work on his next venture, Hooke Bio, which has built a machine to enable the fast analysis of pharmacological compounds, including their correlation to known disease profiles. Davies believes Hooke Bio has the potential to eclipse both Stokes Bio and GenCell in terms of market size.

People such as Davies, Dalton and Curran are just the tip of the iceberg.

In Cork, biotech company Metabolomic Diagnostics, which provides predictive screening for complications of pregnancy, raised €1.6m in a funding round last year to develop a product that could save the lives of thousands of women and their babies through personalised medical interventions.

In June, Institute of Carlow-based MicroGen Biotech won the Thrive Sustainability award at the Forbes AgTech Summit in California, completing a hat-trick of Irish wins in this arena, with Nora Khaldi’s Nuritas winning at Thrive in 2015, and Gary Wickham’s MagGrow recognised in 2016. Headed by Xuemei Germaine, MicroGen Biotech applies constructed, functional, microbiome technology to increase crop yield and health, while protecting food safety by remediating pollutants and improving soil fertility. The start-up has developed a fast and efficient technology that allows identification of functional microbes in four months – a process that can typically take years.

In July, 15 biotech and life sciences start-ups in Cork under SOSV accelerator RebelBio, representing the bleeding edge of science and entrepreneurship, presented their breakthroughs at a RebelBio Demo Day in London.

And yet, the opportunities that biotech as an industry within the overall biopharma and life sciences realm can afford a whole new generation of entrepreneurs is not fully understood. Tech entrepreneurship is not all about apps, you know.

It is certainly understood by a large cohort of the secondary-school students who make their way to the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) every year and who continue to wow with their focus on biology.

Last week, we featured an interview with the head of the BTYSTE, Mari Cahalane, who pointed out that many of the jobs of the future that young attendees will work in have not yet been invented. A BT study of STEM students at UL revealed that 70pc of them are hoping to stay and work in the wider Limerick region.

But what if we considered that their future is to not only stay and work, but to create and lead companies? That’s ambition. That’s vision.

I guarantee you, if you replicated that study at academic institutions in Cork, Waterford, Galway, Mayo, Sligo or elsewhere in Ireland’s regions, a similar statistic would be arrived at.

Biotech – moreover, Ireland’s biotech ambition – holds the magic formula for a prosperous entrepreneurial future in all corners of the land. It is time to plant those seeds.

Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic

Credit to: https://www.siliconrepublic.com/start-ups/biotech-ambition-ireland-entrepreneurship


Hooke Bio won gold in the Medtech category at The National Start-up Awards in May 2018.

Medical security player Nova Leah is definitely one to watch.

Dundalk start-up Nova Leah has picked up the Grand Prix Startup of the Year gong at the final of the National Startup Awards, which are backed by Bank of Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

As well as winning the Grand Prix Award, which includes a €10,000 cash prize, Nova Leah was also named overall winner in the Emerge-Tech Startup category.

‘It is always exciting for us to see the quality of start-up companies emerging across the country, and the innovative ideas and products they are bringing to the fore’

Founded by CEO Anita Finnegan, Nova Leah specialises in developing expert cybersecurity risk management systems specifically for medical devices.

Nova Leah’s cloud-based system, SelectEvidence, is the result of a five-year R&D programme at Dundalk Institute of Technology. SelectEvidence is designed to guide medical device manufacturers in the implementation of cybersecurity requirements and best practices over the lifetime of a device, in compliance with US FDA recommendations for infosec threats and risks during pre-market and post-market activities.

The National Startup Awards recognise innovative, successful and aspirational Irish start-up companies that have launched in the last five years.

“The awards provide a platform to promote young companies on a national stage,” said Gavin Kelly, CEO of retail for Ireland at Bank of Ireland.

“As the largest lender to the Irish economy, we are committed to supporting new and emerging entrepreneurs as they grow and develop their business, and we have been incredibly impressed by the high standard of entries that have come through this competition.”

Quality and quantity

This year, awards were also presented to deserving winners across 13 other categories, including tech, retail, product and tourism, with gold, silver and bronze winners being awarded in each category.

Among the winners, iKydz won the gold award in the Tech Startup category. It is a web and mobile application that allows a parent or guardian to manage a child’s internet usage.

Hooke Bio won the gold award in the Medtech Startup category. Hooke Bio has developed a unique ultra-high-throughput screening (uHTS) microfluidic platform that allows unlimited drug screening at the crucial early drug discovery phase.

ID-Pal won the gold award in the Fintech Startup category. ID-Pal is a software-as-a-service (Saas) know your customer (KYC) solution that enables businesses to verify customer identity simply, securely and conveniently.

AudioSourceRE won the gold award in the Research Spinout/Third Level category. AudioSourceRE has developed innovative technology for separating and manipulating music and audio files.

“It is always exciting for us to see the quality of start-up companies emerging across the country, and the innovative ideas and products they are bringing to the fore, and I look forward to seeing what is ahead for this year’s winners and runners-up,” said Joe Healy, divisional manager for high-potential start-ups at Enterprise Ireland.

Article Source: https://www.siliconrepublic.com/start-ups/nova-leah-national-startup-awards-2018 


“One to Watch Award” winner announced at Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas 2017

Image Source: https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/

Annual showcase event highlights successful collaborations between higher education institutes, investors and state support

This evening, Finola Cliffe of HookeBio was presented with the “One to Watch Award” at Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas 2017. HookeBio was one of ten investor-ready start-up companies to pitch their new technology solutions to investors at Enterprise Ireland’s annual showcase of start-up innovation emerging from higher education institutes at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin.

The award was presented to HookeBio for the outstanding pitch of the day. Each company had just four minutes to promote their innovations and business propositions to an invited audience made up of the Irish research and business communities.

HookeBio’s revolutionary technology aimed at the pharmaceutical industry will transform ‘new drug discovery’ by enabling rapid and cost-effective drug screening.

In its eighth year, the Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas event illustrates the commercial potential of innovations from Ireland’s academic institutions across a range of sectors. This year’s Big Ideas came from the Medtech, Fintech, Agritech and Cleantech sectors and all have been through the initial process of getting their products or services ready before pitching their innovations to investors.

Speaking at the event, Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation, John Halligan TD said: “Ireland is home to one of the most vibrant and collaborative commercialisation ecosystems in the world with the global ambition of the Irish Research, Development and Innovation sector being supported by Innovation 2020, Ireland’s strategy for research and development. Today’s Big Ideas showcase event is about the commercialisation of the incredible academic research emerging from our higher education system. This is an event where smart people, smart ideas and smart money meet to create innovation and value, driving the future prosperity of the Irish economy on a global scale.”

The keynote speaker at Big Ideas 2017 was Mark Pollock, a specialist in resilience and collaboration, who became the first blind man to race to the South Pole in 2009. The following year, a fall from a second story window left him paralysed. Now he is focused on fast tracking a cure for paralysis by creating science and technology research collaborations and translating their results to the clinic.

Trinity College’s Dr. Conor McGinn discussed the future use of artificial intelligence, design and robotics in the home, as well as unveiling a new robot.

Julie Sinnamon, CEO, Enterprise Ireland said: “As part of Enterprise Ireland’s four-year corporate strategy to build scale and expand reach, we have set strategic ambitions to increase client exports to €26 billion per annum by 2020. One of the methods we will use to achieve these targets is through driving innovation in Irish enterprise. Our annual Big Ideas event is a key set piece for us in driving the innovation agenda and this year’s event reflects the fantastic innovative work that is being done in our academic institutions. I would like to congratulate Finola Cliffe from HookeBio on winning the “One to Watch Award” and we look forward to working with the company to take their idea from bench to boardroom.”

Previous Big Ideas participants who have gone on to achieve international success also took to the stage to discuss “Scaling Start-ups” with MC Matt Cooper, highlighting the successful collaborations that exist between higher education institutes, investors and state support in Ireland.

Full details on the event are available at www.bigideas.ie

Click here to download the Big Ideas Brochure 2017 [pdf format].

Article Source: https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/news/pressreleases/2017-press-releases/%E2%80%9Cone-to-watch-award%E2%80%9D-winner-announced-at-enterprise-ireland%E2%80%99s-big-ideas-2017.html