SensArs Neuroprosthetics, an innovative neuromodulation organisation, delivers unique solutions aimed at treating chronic neuropathic pain and improving the quality of life of sufferers. Francesco Petrini, founder and CEO tells us more about this inspiring technology and the pioneering work already undertaken.
Chronic neuropathic pain is resistant to many forms of medication, and owing to the diversity of pain mechanisms, patient responses and diseases associated with it, the condition is difficult to treat effectively. Everyday painkillers just do not work.
Neuromodulation, a technology which acts directly upon the nerves by delivering electrical or pharmaceutical agents directly to a targeted area, is a revolutionary solution with a wide therapeutic scope. To this end, Lausanne based SensArs’ new patented SENSY implantable electrode brings fresh hope to chronic pain sufferers through long-term pain reduction.
Here, Francesco Petrini, SensArs Neuroprosthetics Founder and CEO, explains how witnessing the trauma of unsuccessful pain relief paved the way for this pioneering startup company, and ultimately led to an exciting new concept in treating neuropathic pain.
So, Francesco, let’s start at the very beginning. In leading us through the SensArs’ journey, could you explain how and why you first became involved in neuromodulation technology?
While I was studying biomedical engineering, my best friend developed chronic pain following damage to a tibial nerve. Having witnessed his daily suffering and inability to gain long-term pain relief, I decided to undertake a PhD in neural engineering upon graduating.
My PhD studies involved developing highly selective implantable electrodes for peripheral nerves, and I became part of a team which initiated the first worldwide studies into chronic pain associated with damaged nerves in the leg. This research and development subsequently led to more than 25 publications, including being featured in both ‘Nature Medicine’ and ‘Science Translational Medicine,’ more than 2500 citations, and receiving a ‘Top Innovator Under 35’ nomination from MIT. Feedback from the scientific community and the media was outstanding – we had unearthed a solution to an unmet need – and I dedicated myself to a mission of developing a commercial product for sufferers of chronic neuropathic pain.
So that personal insight into living with the everyday reality of chronic pain was the main driver and motivational force behind your entrepreneurial success. Perhaps you could tell us more about SENSY, how it works and the patients who could benefit from this technology?
Where there is damage to a nerve connecting the hands or feet with the brain, the sensory feedback loop to the brain is disrupted. The brain interoperates this disruption as pain.
SENSY is an FDA breakthrough designated device that restores the natural sensory feedback with the brain, thus treating the pain. This is done through an array of micron-size wires (half the thickness of hair) that are inserted vertically across the nerve and target. We are then able to stimulate each of the intraneural electrodes independently and selectively, providing multiple advantages:
- We are able to specifically target stimulation to regions that cause pain rather than an entire limb.
- We can gain full coverage of the limb without inflicting any side effects.
- We are able to restore natural sensation to amputees or those who have senseless limbs.
Feedback from the patients who participated in earlier clinical trials testifies that the benefits are immense. Upper limb patients can now distinguish between soft or round objects and even different textures. Lower limb amputees can now feel every bump on the ground as they walk, thus reducing the likelihood of falls. Importantly, the clinician can calibrate SENSY to the need of a specific patient (change the parameters of stimulation, or the sensitivity of the sensors), and monitor how the therapy is working.
Receiving glowing feedback from patients is not only uplifting to hear, but is a constant day to day reminder of the positive impact SENSY achieves for its users. ‘Suddenly when I was doing movements I could actually feel what I was doing instead of looking at what I was doing. It’s so amazing to feel something that you haven’t been able to for so many years,’ states one SENSY electrode recipient.
We believe that within the EU and US there are currently more than 20 million patients suffering from chronic neuropathic pain as a result of amputation, diabetes, cancer-related complications, drug intoxication, nerve entrapment, etc. This represents a huge opportunity for SENSY and the potential to extend its reach to further neuromodulation applications as diabetes, sleep apnoea, obesity.
What distinguishes SensArs from other neuropathic pain control organisations?
At present the market for neuropathic pain due to nerve damages is not only unattended, but represents an opportunity of approximately $350 billion. Our state-of-the-art technology, which can be implanted inside a nerve in less than 10 minutes, is a definite attraction for reputable device manufacturers and industry leaders who will add our product to their portfolio. In terms of reach, this opportunity could extend to 30 per cent of the entire market, where market leaders cannot penetrate with their products.
The SensArs team comprises global innovators who have industry experience in developing market approval in the EU and US, and we have already secured future clients from surgical centres across Europe and USA. We are backed by specialised investors in medtech, and with our electrode suitable for implant within any nerve of the body, diseases such as sleep apnoea, diabetes, obesity and motor impairments due to stroke, are easily treated. Chronic pain treatment is only the beginning. SensArs technology revolutionises the world of neuromodulation in that it is the only high precision nerve targeting device which can reach every extremity of the body, generating sensory feedback. Additionally, SENSY collects patients’ gait data and pain reports that update the therapy without the need for further clinical intervention.
Within such a significant untapped market, how do you see the future of SENSY playing out in the next three to five years?
Market approval in Europe and the US is anticipated by 2025. Our initial aim is to focus on the German and Italian markets followed by northern European countries. Our target is to reach approximately 600 patients by 2027.
We’re also extremely excited about collaboration and M&A opportunities. In parallel with our plans to target Europe and the US, we are also undertaking clinical trials which test the feasibility of several other targeted approaches geared towards spinal cord stimulator manufacturers such as Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Abbott adding SENSY to their portfolio to address the large unattended market of chronic pain from nerve damage.
Lausanne, Switzerland, based SensArs treats chronic neuropathic pain and reduces movement disability due to sensory loss through its innovative highly selective peripheral nerve stimulation – SENSY.
For further information on the concept, technology and work of this groundbreaking neuromodulation company as well as in depth updates on trials and projects, please visit the SensArs Neuroprosthetics website at https://www.sensars.com/