CTcue devised a tool for doctors and hospitals to quickly and efficiently identify people who would make suitable subjects for clinical trials. Despite interest from drug companies, it proved difficult to secure the finances necessary to develop the Patient Recruiter. The answer was Proof-of-Concept Funding (VFF). In just eighteen months, the tool grew from an innovative idea into an internationally sought-after product.
VFF loans enable start-ups and SMEs to find out whether their ideas have real market potential. "For a start-up operating in a sector as complex as health care, the VFF was the ideal solution. It put us where we are now: ready to proceed with the rollout, with the door to the market wide open," says Roel Lakmaker, CTcue's founder and CEO.
Quick, efficient searching
The Patient Recruiter's origin was a market research project that Lakmaker was involved in. "We found out that the electronic medical records (EMRs) are compilations of reports about patients written by various professionals – doctors, pathologists, radiologists, etc. – containing details of surgical procedures, lab test results and so on," he explains. "Anyone wanting to recruit suitable patients for a clinical trial would find it impossible to go through everything manually. So we thought: wouldn't it be great to have a tool that doctors and hospitals could use to quickly and efficiently identify good candidates for testing new drugs and therapies. The Patient Recruiter is that tool. Another big plus of our product is that it's built with modern privacy legislation in mind, in contrast to most hospitals' electronic medical records."
Recognition and confidence
"Our idea was soon attracting interest from the pharmaceutical sector. But no one was willing to take the financial risk of backing us," Lakmaker continues. "Securing VFF support changed all that. It brought us tremendous recognition and enabled us to win the confidence of the market. The discussions that we have with people now are a million miles from the discussions we were having eighteen months ago. It was a year before we got our foot in the door at a hospital, but we are now working with nine hospitals and I think that number will increase to about twenty by the end of the year. Doctors, hospitals, pharmacists… everyone is recommending our product."
Finalist and international interest
CTcue was a finalist in the prestigious Herman Wijffels Innovation Prize 2015. The Patient Recruiter attracted international interest as well. Talks were held about possible collaboration in Belgium and the tool's potential for use in the UK and Scandinavia was explored. Lakmaker: "We now have enough backers and paid-up orders. As well as ensuring that we can repay the VFF loan on time, this means we've been able to expand the workforce from three full-timers to eight."
Tips for other start-ups
"Don't focus exclusively on the technology," Lakmaker advises anyone else just starting out in business. "Find out whether your innovation is a runner with your target groups. Listen to the feedback and be prepared to make changes. Ask people what they actually want and whether they will help you shape your ideas. In the prototype phase, you've got to show that there really is a market for your product. At the end of the day, the loan has to be repaid. It's good that RVO.nl is pragmatic and looks critically at that sort of thing during the intake interviews."
As well as Proof-of-Concept Funding, CTcue is making use of:
- Research and development tax credits (WBSO)
- Innovation credit for the High-tech Systems & Materials and ICT top sector (MIT HTSM)
- Innovation credit for the Life Sciences & Health top sector (MIT LSH).