Everyone knows what asthma is, and no wonder: today, some 334 million people globally suffer from the condition. That figure is predicted to rise to 400 million by 2025. For some sufferers, asthma means a tightening of the chest and mild wheezing. For others, asthma can be life-threatening and even fatal: in the UK alone, 1,400 people die each year of asthma.
Albus Health, an Oxford spinout company registered at BreatheOx Limited, is determined to combat this with a radical approach to asthma care. As CEO Mikesh Udani puts it: “Asthma attacks are frequent, costly and increasing in prevalence. A key problem is that patients fail to spot early warning signs. We are developing a passive monitoring technology that can automatically track some of these early warning signs to predict risk of future attacks, which could ultimately prevent hospital admissions.”
At present, asthma patients have to perform lung function tests twice daily and keep symptom diaries. If they do this, they and their clinicians can keep tabs on their condition. “But real life isn’t that simple,” says Mikesh, who graduated with a masters from Oxford’s Department of Computer Science in 2016. “People inevitably forget to take their tests or discontinue after a few weeks – which is understandable as nobody wants to do something every day for a chronic condition. For children and elderly especially, lung function tests and keeping diaries present further challenges.”
But reliable symptom monitoring can make a huge difference: patients can control their symptoms, avoid hospitalisation, and evade a fate that Mikesh believes is unacceptable in the 21st century. “Of the 1,400 people who die of asthma each year in the UK, 45% die before reaching hospital in a state of emergency. It is simply not right, given all the medical advances brought by modern technology, that this is still happening.”
Albus Health’s solution is both innovative and revolutionary. “We have developed a small table-top non-contact device that continuously collects objective symptom data and other metrics, without patients having to do or wear anything,” explains Mikesh. “We’re developing algorithms that would assess the risk of future attacks and feedback the results to patients, their families or clinicians in advance of the attack. Timely and effective interventions will be then be possible.”
Mikesh, a former Oxford Biodesign Fellow, credits the University of Oxford for helping get Albus Health up and running. “The company came out of the Oxford Biodesign Programme; it was during my year on the Programme that I met my co-founder, Dr William Do. We were supported in many different ways during the year-long Programme, from pitch training to business plan advice, to having a salary.”
And now, based at the Oxford Foundry, Albus Health can tap into an array of management, fundraising and recruitment advice, not to mention enjoy being immersed in such a hubbub of creativity. “We were fortunate to be one of ten teams short-listed to obtain a place at the Foundry in March 2018,” says Mikesh. “Sitting next to nine other start-ups, all doing remarkable things, is fantastic.”
Albus Health started its clinical study last year and is finalising contracts to commercialise its first product with a major pharmaceutical company, while expanding its team. The company has received two grant awards from InnovateUK (UK’s innovation agency) – and Oxford Science Innovation is among the company’s investors. The strong following wind means that, before long, Albus Health’s mission statement will hopefully become reality: “We believe that no one should be hospitalised for asthma, let alone die from it.”