Spaer Medical Limited – Case Study
Spaer Medical has 20 years of medical device innovation and product development experience and specialises in oximtery (SpO2/NIRS), ECG, and NIBP (inc. cNIBP/cCO) monitoring.
Dr Jamie Watson, Managing Director, tells us about his passion for invention (named inventor on over 130 issued US patents)
and the thrill of being part of the technology journey from concept to launch.
What has been your career path?
Academically, I have a Physics degree from Leicester University, a Masters in AI from London University and a PhD in neural network applications from Napier University.
In 2001, I co-founded a startup called CardioDigital with a colleague from Napier, Paul Addison, and we received a couple of rounds of funding from the Wellcome Trust’s Techology Transfer fund. Initially our focus was on analysing the ECGs of fibrillating myocardia and predicting cardioversion outcome.
However, in 2008 we were bought by a large US bluechip called Coviden because of our patented wavelet algorithms, which could extract breathing rate from a pulse oximetry signal.
In a ten year career at Covidien (later Medtronic), I became more specialised in oximetry and was made a Technical Fellow in 2012 and Chief Scientist of the Nellcor franchise in 2017. I left Medtronic in 2018 after a year of constant travel and very little science before spending two years in a contractually enforced exile from medical research.
In 2020, after being asked for some help by ex-Medtronic colleagues, I started Spaer Medical as a specialist algorithm consultancy.
Tell us about some of your career highlights…
Although I’m named inventor on over 130 issued US patents, I have to admit this was largely due to ‘right-time, right-place’. I’m probably most proud of my first as co-inventor on the respiration rate patent that is currently being commercialised by Medtronic under the Nellcor brand. As well as inventor, I was a principal engineer during development, the R&D rep on the regulatory submission team and provided post launch support to the sales and marketing team.
Being part of a journey from concept, as a startup’s sole employee, to global launch by the worlds largest medical device company was a rollercoaster, but certainly also a highlight.
Other highlights would be becoming a Technical Fellow at Medtronic and being nominated as the UK representative on the ISO oximetry working group. Becoming Chief Scientist of Nellcor, if only for a year, was also a huge personal honour.
The story behind Spaer Medical…
As a member of the Edinburgh investment community, I’ve seen a great many companies promising to demonstrate a clinically useful, wearable, monitoring device.
Almost all of them involve taking a high acuity monitor, already available in the OR or ICU, and miniaturising it for low acuity use. Virtually these ignore secondary parameters derivable from the collected signals, and quote “AI” as the way useful information will be extracted. Very few have a solid grasp of the competitive landscape and fewer still know the regulatory obstacles they are likely to face.
Spaer is a very young company, but already has three R&D contracts with US medical device companies. The revenue from this is funding the company’s ambition to develop a truly clinically useful, and wearable, patient monitoring device.
Why did you choose to become a Business Member with BioQuarter?
Spaer Medical is Edinburgh-based so location was certainly important, as is the prestige of the address, but the people and the environment were also key. Having access to a network of similarly positioned companies so close to some of the best clinical minds in Europe make it a bit of a no-brainer if you’re a medical device company hoping to grow.
What collaboration opportunities or engagement do you hope to gain from across BioQuarter?
I’m hoping to be able to share my experiences of 20 years in the medical device sector, but I’m also hoping to hear a lot more. Sharing over a coffee or in an informal seminar is often more productive than a literature review, I find.
What are you focused on at the moment and what does the future hold?
Currently the company is focused on wearable oximetry devices. There are a number of under utilised clinical parameters that can be derived from both pulse and regional oximetry sensor signals.
Typically these have been considered in isolation when attempting to quantify their clinical uselfullness. Spaer’s contention is that they should be used in combination to provide a better indication of a patient’s condition.
Externally we are consulting on projects developing non-invasive monitoring devices for photoacoustic oximetry and heart failure diagnosis.
Who is your mentor?
Professionally, I had the privilege of working for many years with Dr Paul Mannheimer. Paul was an employee of Nellcor in the late eighties and its Chief Scientist for many years. He was incredibly generous in sharing his experiences of the industry, the FDA and the science.
On the clinical side, over the years I’ve had a lot of support from extremely influential and generous staff at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, especially when we were starting out. As a mentor, Professor Colin Robertson from the hospital’s A&E department took us under his wing when we first started and has been exceptionally supportive during my whole career.
What are you looking forward to most about being part of the BioQuarter community?
I’m most looking forward to making new connections and networks. Things really get moving forward when you surround yourself with like minded people who have the experience and advice to get your idea off the ground. I want to be around people who have done this already, and could help guide me.