The Imperial College Investment Fund (ICIF), an early-stage investment fund launched at Imperial in early 2020, announced today that it had invested £205,000 in Charco Neurotech. The company will launch its device – CUE1 – in the UK and EU in early 2021.
CUE1 is a non-invasive medical device worn on the chest that uses controlled vibration and cueing to offer relief and improvement to a wide range of physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The founders say it could help patients walk, move their hands and use tools more quickly and easily.
The company was founded by former student Lucy Jung while she was studying the Innovation Design Engineering MSc/MA offered by Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art.
The ICIF invests in startup companies with a strong connection to Imperial College London, such as those founded by students, members of staff or alumni, or companies which have engaged extensively with Imperial’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Lucy Jung, CEO and Co-founder of Charco Neurotech, said: “Having worked closely with Parkinson’s patients over the past few years, we believe that CUE1 has the potential to significantly improve their symptoms through its unique controlled vibration technology. We are excited to continue our work on the device and we look forward to the outcome of our proposed clinical trials.”
Brijesh Roy, Seed Investment Manager at Imperial College London, said: “Lucy and her team are just one great example of high-quality startups founded by Imperial’s staff, student and alumni community. Since launching ICIF in the summer, we have met hundreds of amazing founders and I am delighted that the first investment will go to support such an enthusiastic and capable team making such an impact in patients’ lives. Charco’s founders have engaged with Imperial’s entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout their startup journey and we are thrilled that the launch of ICIF with Parkwalk expands this support to include investment.”
The £205,000 investment from ICIF is part of a £500,000 seed round, including business angels and other early-stage venture funds. The Royal College of Art has also previously invested in the company, which raised over £200,000 in grants, prizes and other investment prior to this funding round.
Charco Neurotech has been supported by Imperial’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including the Medtech SuperConnector and the White City Innovators Programme, as well as working with the Enterprise Lab and the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service.
Charco Neurotech and CUE1
Former Imperial student Lucy Jung and Dr Floyd Pierres, a doctor at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, have been passionate about improving life for people with Parkinson’s for many years, since they first learned of the difficulties people with Parkinson’s face day-to-day. Lucy was also part of the team that developed the ARC pen, a vibrating pen used to treat the handwriting disorder micrographia, which commonly affects Parkinson’s patients. Since then, Lucy and Floyd have been working to develop a business that uses technology to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s more broadly.
Charco Neurotech’s lead device, CUE1, represents a move away from the idea of designing separate devices for different tasks. Instead, it is a simple and elegant device that may improve a wide range of motor dysfunction symptoms.
CUE1 attaches to the sternum using medical adhesive and produces controlled vibrations managed by proprietary algorithms to provide cueing and focused stimulation.
The company has undertaken initial user testing with support from Parkinson’s charities and local patient community groups. Patients reported improvement for a range of motor symptoms and expressed a wish to wear the device continuously. The testing also showed that the device can integrate into the existing patient care pathway for Parkinson’s, with some patients using therapies such as Levodopa reporting additive improvements using CUE1. The team say that more recent testing suggests a clinically significant improvement in symptoms for Parkinson’s patients. You can see their testing report and videos on their website. They will use the money raised through this seed round to initiate a clinical trial to validate these improvements and the efficacy of the technology in larger patient groups and fund the manufacture of the device ahead of a commercial launch.
Following feedback during user testing, Charco Neurotech has added medication management features to CUE1, at the request of Parkinson’s patients, that can help patients stick to the strict dosing regimen required for Levodopa.
Vibration as an emerging therapy for Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder in which neurons in the substantia nigra are destroyed, leading to a reduction of dopamine in the brain. This leads to symptoms such as tremor, bradykinesia (slow movement) and rigidity, which can make everyday tasks very difficult for Parkinson’s patients.
It affects 145,000 people in the UK and up to 10 million worldwide, with most patients diagnosed over the age of 60. The disease can be difficult to diagnose, and while there are treatments that help to maintain quality of life and life expectancy, there is no cure.
Vibration has been noted as helping Parkinson’s patients since celebrated 19th Century neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot observed improvement in patients’ symptoms after they rode in a carriage. These vehicles, lacking modern suspension, vibrated extensively.
Though researchers are yet to completely understand the mechanism by which vibration alleviates Parkinson’s symptoms, this is an active field of study and research to date has shown the potential of vibration alleviate the physical symptoms of the disease. One suggested explanation of the impact of vibration is that neurodegeneration leads to altered sensory stimulation and integration in the central nervous system which affects movement symptoms. Vibration may cause indirect stimulation of motor neurons in the brain through sensory reweighting, leading to improved movement control.