Written by Joe Roberts
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Meet the pioneering firm using bioelectronics to change the way pain is managed.
London-based NuroKor is developing a range of products that use the very latest in electrical nerve stimulation tech to help manage pain and support with recovery, all without need for medication.
NuroKor says its technology could be an effective alternative to painkillers, especially as last month, NICE stated that commonly used treatments for chronic pain could in fact do more harm than good.
Originally from Australia, the company’s CEO Rick Rowan founded NuroKor after coming across research into bioelectronics while looking for solutions to his 30-year chronic pain.
Health Tech World spoke with the entrepreneur about his journey to starting the company, plans for the future and how electrostimulation could be the future solution of pain relief.
What is your personal experience with back pain?
I have been a lifelong back pain sufferer. In fact, the first time I saw a GP about back pain was when I was 10 years old. In my teen years, it progressively got worse until it got to the point where it was quite debilitating, and anything could trigger it.
I was seeing numerous doctors and specialists and the answer I would get from them was: ‘We can’t really work out what’s wrong, so unless you want to spend a lot of money on surgery, there’s not really much we can do for you.’
So, I ended up just learning to live with it. It was always in the back of my mind because something simple like tying up my shoelace or picking up the kids or something would trigger my back.
Then it would escalate and become debilitating, so I would take the option of anti inflammatories and various painkillers in mixtures, which I’m sure in hindsight was very risky. But, when you are in in pain, you become quite desperate.
How were you introduced to TENS devices?
I was given the opportunity to trial a generic TENS device. I had used these devices a number of times visiting physiotherapists, but I never actually questioned or thought about what it was.
So, I tried it out and it gave me relief that I hadn’t experienced before; it was like a revelation. Then, next time my back pain occurred, I used the device and it didn’t do anything. I lent it to others and the results, similarly, were quite mixed.
I’m quite inquisitive and scientifically minded. So, I first of all tried to understand what it was doing, and why it sometimes worked and why other times it didn’t.
How did you come to start NuroKor?
When looking through the studies, I noticed that there were various frequencies being used and there was no cohesion as to how the studies were done.
I started to ask questions about combining frequencies to increase efficacy and from there I had my first run with a product and a company that I co-founded in Australia.
That company had its limitations, as it was primarily about product and not about R&D and the technology itself.
So, I founded NuroKor, with the objective of exploring the global impact that this type of science could have on quality of life. Not just on things like pain, but all the various other areas electroceuticals are being applied to.
For me, it was it was the electrical version of a pharmaceutical company. Even though we’ve got some companies like Galvani with billions of US dollars investment from the likes of GSK and Google’s Verily Life Sciences, they still haven’t produced product or had meaningful impact at this point.
When did NuroKor launch and what stage is the company at right now?
We incorporated in April of 2018 and we officially launched when I landed in the UK, right from an Airbnb in Winchester in August of 2018.
As the team and I got better at identifying useful protocols for application and as our formulas got better, more and more customers were reporting even better results.
We are less than two years old. It normally takes around that amount of time just to get a device to market, but we have a couple already.
We have distribution in the UK, Norway, USA, Australia, New Zealand and we’re now bringing on Malaysia. So, for a new company, I think we’ve done well.
Has NuroKor received investment?
We are currently on a mezzanine funding round. At the moment, we have five pharmacy owners who are investors, despite pharmaceuticals being the antithesis to what we do.
These pharmacy owners have had such good results in store that they’ve decided to invest in our current foundation mezzanine funding, prior to our series A later in the year.
Adding to that, we have five doctors who have invested for the very same reasons, including an orthopaedic surgeon. We also have a professor who has invested and is also coming on to the board in the area of wound care and tissue viability management.
Tell us about the NuroKor team
The team has grown considerably. In August of 2018, it was just me and two part time employees. At that point, we didn’t actually have a product, so I had to get on the phone and start selling a concept to Norway, Australia and domestically.
From there we started producing and the team grew. At the moment, we have a direct internal team of nearly 10 as well as some part time at high level.
We have someone working on brand and research, a director of medical science who’s a doctor, a PhD assisting with our research and a head of development, who’s also a cell biologist.
We also have a growing army of unpaid ambassadors from Olympic level athletes to business heads, including the MD of Marie Claire magazine and the MD of Steinway and Sons UK, who are both ambassadors and investors.
How does the technology work?
We use three primary modalities: peripheral nerve, the neuromuscular and microcurrent.
The first is transcutaneous peripheral nerve, which can cover everything from neuromuscular to neurological applications. We primarily focus this modality on things like pain management.
The exact mechanism, just like anaesthetics, is not fully understood. There are a number of theories, but at the end of the day it works.
The second modality is neuromuscular, which assists with things like circulation as well as muscle pain and a number of other factors. An example is sarcopenia, which is the reduction of lean muscle mass and a huge problem for the ageing population.
Off the back of sarcopenia are a number of health factors, so improving lean muscle mass can be a really positive health outcome for users and it can be done very effectively through neuromuscular stimulation.
The third modality, which is probably one of the biggest areas for us, is microcurrent.
Microcurrent is quite misunderstood. It works at a millionth of an ampere so it’s primarily sub-sensory and it can have a direct impact on both cell and tissue current.
When your tissue is injured, the current of the tissue can be lowered and resistance increased. The quicker you can normalise that current, the quicker the tissue goes back to its homeostatic point.
Could electro-stimulation products be an effective alternative to painkillers?
Anecdotally and observationally, we’ve seen huge benefits of our devices for pain management, as well as seeing a number of customers joining who have either greatly reduced their medication or come off their medication all together.
I’m a perfect example of that. Some years ago, I remember one GP prescribed me 3000 milligrams of paracetamol a day. When I asked how long I’d have to take it for, he shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘probably forever’.
But now, I haven’t taken a painkiller or an anti-inflammatory in years.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business?
One of the main challenges is that electroceuticals, as a technology, is sorely misunderstood.
There are a very small number of specialists who have any experience and knowledge in the area, so many areas of public health, such as the NICE guidelines, don’t understand it.
They look at it from a bird’s eye view or top line view, so a study, for example, might show 20% efficacy for example. In drug terms, that’s actually very high, but when it’s looked at as a modality, it’s considered to be minimally effective.
Organisations like NICE have now gotten to this point in time where they are openly looking at alternative solutions. I think that can only be positive and we are definitely going to be partaking, as stakeholders, in that discussion.
Do you have any ongoing studies or trials in development?
We have a number of studies in planning stage and we will do some validation work with particular devices, primarily for commercial purposes.
We have a lot of small-scale cohorts in play currently for things like peripheral neuropathy, pain patients and wound management.
We’re also in conversation with around fifteen NHS trusts about potential collaborative work with regards to clinical trials and studies.
In addition to this, we’re currently in discussions with Coventry and North Hampton Universities around collaborative studies.
What we are looking to do is not just to validate, but also to optimise; that’s what NuroKor is all about. We’re all for furthering the science, furthering the technology and the impact it can have.
What are the next steps for NuroKor?
As far as we’re concerned, we have validated our concepts of application. The next steps for us is around personalised optimisation of our technology using machine learning and then using data algorithms to optimise formulas for specific use.
We’re aiming to work out the ideal and most effective frequency formula or protocol for lower back pain.
We’re currently on a mezzanine funding round now but we’re aiming to go to series A before the end of the year and use that funding to accelerate our research and market scope, as well as further develop within our own verticals.
We’re specifically looking at clinical use, pain management, post-operative management, wound care, animal use and consumer products.