The University of Nottingham had conducted over 15 years of research into a new and innovative fetal monitor based upon the acquisition and processing of the fetal Electrocardiogram (fECG) and wished to commercialise the product.
To transfer the technology to a new spin-out company — Monica Healthcare — who would be free to exploit the commercial potential of the new device.
With a substantial stake in Monica Healthcare, The University of Nottingham provided scientific and technical expertise, and also helped raise venture capital.
Monica Healthcare raised a £0.5 million fund to develop the fetal heart monitor, undertake clinical trials (currently ongoing) and CE-mark the device. The fetal heart monitor allows both the fetus and mother to be unobtrusively and continuously monitored for long periods, it is passive and can be operated by the mother at home with little or no midwife supervision.
Monica Healthcare Ltd is a company focused on the manufacture and marketing of innovative fetal monitors. The company spun-out of The University of Nottingham in 2005 following 15 years of research conducted by the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the Department of Human Development (Obstetrics, Midwifery and Gynaecology).
Monica Healthcare’s first product, The Monica AN24, is an innovative device that passively and accurately monitors fetal development. Unlike familiar Doppler fetal monitors which use ultrasound and require supervision by midwives throughout short (30 minute) monitoring sessions, this compact and portable unit records electrical signals from the mothers abdomen over extended periods. It converts this data into a digital form and processes it in real time to provide clinically relevant information, including Fetal Heart Rate (FHR).
The Monica AN24 is a product born out of research undertaken in the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering under the guidance of the original inventors Dr Barrie Hayes-Gill and Dr John Crowe. The final stage of this research work was the result of a PhD by Dr Jean Francois Pieri which culminated in the filing of a patent in 1999. In 2002 Dr Carl Barratt joined the University from industry having earlier completed a PhD in paediatric monitoring, also under the guidance of Drs Hayes-Gill and Crowe. Dr Barratt worked with Dr Hayes-Gill on the Herobic Innovation Research Fellowship to explore the commercial potential of the abdominal Electrocardiogram (FECG) technique and was subsequently awarded a Medici contract. This enabled him to look into technology transfer and the commercial potential of innovative fetal monitors. During this period Drs Hayes-Gill, Barratt and Crowe won the Biosciences Joint Research Council Business Plan competition which provided a cash prize of £25,000 to launch Monica Healthcare Ltd.
It was then that the Technology Transfer Office at The University of Nottingham proved its value in the successful formation of Monica Healthcare. “The University’s Technology Transfer office was very useful to us from the start,” states Dr Barratt. “It gave invaluable guidance when we were writing our business plan. It also provided a link to all of the different University departments that had an interest in the Intellectual Property (IP) transfer and the fetal monitor.”
The University of Nottingham’s involvement also had financial benefits, as Dr Barratt confirms: “We were able to attract venture capital through our link with the University as well as through the commercial potential of the product.”
The University Intellectual Property (IP) was transferred to Monica Healthcare who then undertook design and marketing of the commercial product itself. This has benefits for both the University and Monica Healthcare, explains Dr Barratt: “The transferring of the Intellectual Property from the University to Monica Healthcare, allowed the commercialisation of this project to be moved forward effectively and dynamically.” Dr Barratt is now the Chief Executive Officer of Monica Healthcare and Dr Pieri, who was persuaded to leave his full-time employment in France, is now the Chief Technical Officer.
Today, Monica Healthcare still benefits from the University’s involvement, as Dr Barratt confirms. “The University of Nottingham retains a substantial stake in Monica Healthcare, including representation on the board and the continued involvement of Dr Hayes-Gill, Associate Professor in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, who provides invaluable scientific and technical expertise on an on-going basis.”