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Investing in the future of rehab robotics

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Rehabilitation robotics unicorn Fourier Intelligence is set to take its ongoing global expansion to the next level after securing funding from Saudi Aramco, becoming the first rehab tech company in the world to gain financial backing from a major player in the international investment market.

Fourier is now targeting global market expansion – with the United States and EU being key targets for the near future – ongoing development of its world-leading technology, and adding further to its international team through the C+ financing round, which the company’s co-founder Zen Koh described as being of “humongous” significance.

The business, a pioneer in the global rehab tech market, is already on an unrelenting path of growth, expanding into 54 countries to date from its native Singapore, including the UK, with more than 1,000 uses of its technology in 30 of them.

The adoption rate is increasing “exponentially”, says Zen, with more than 10 million usage hours for its portfolio of over 20 AI-powered rehabilitation robots so far.

And as well as its work in enabling access to rehab through the popularisation of its technology, Fourier – which has grown hugely during its six years in business – is committed to leading, supporting and participating in international scientific research in rehab robotics, to enable the delivery of technology-led solutions to solve specific clinical constraints.

So far, it has established ten subsidiaries and joint research laboratories in international destinations including Singapore, Chicago – in the world-leading Shirley Ryan AbilityLab – China, Malaysia, Melbourne, Zurich and Spain.

Now, to add to its stellar progress, Fourier’s securing of backing from Saudi Aramco – the world’s most profitable company and biggest oil producer – is indicative of both the potential of the rehab robotics market and Fourier’s huge presence within it.

“For the past three decades or so, since we started introducing technologies and robotics into clinical rehab settings, no global players have been willing to enter the field,” says Zen, deputy group CEO of Fourier Intelligence Group.

“We have witnessed many promising companies, startups and technologies retreating or moving on. But this funding round from such a major investor indicates that the rehab technology industry is now getting the long-overdue attention and support needed to make a positive difference in patients’ lives.”

One initial move in the advancement of Fourier’s work enabled by the investment is the upcoming collaboration with Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (JHAH) to create an advanced rehabilitation robotic service.

“This round of financing will further accelerate our growth and allow us to invest more into our core technology development, talent acquisition and global market expansion,” says Zen, who has worked in the advancement of rehab robotics for over 20 years.

“The two main targets for our expansion are the United States and the European Union. We do have some presence in the EU but not yet on a large scale. Initially when you develop products, you focus on places close to you before launching globally, but the time has now come for more aggressive expansion and a larger installation base.

“The United States is very exciting, it is one of the largest markets in the world. We are entering into a joint venture and are willing to invest in factories and in talent acquisition.

“Being based in Singapore, we are sandwiched between East and West, but while there are differences in those markets, we do not see the politics – we only see that patients need our technology. Our goal is to empower clinicians and serve patients in the global market and that has never changed. We want patients to get back as normal a life as possible and we want our technology to make that happen.”

In becoming the first ‘major player’ to give its financial backing to a rehab tech company, Prosperity7 Ventures says it has identified the potential of this as a largely untapped industry with huge growth potential, and is supporting Fourier with its network and resources in addition to the funding, with a focus on partnerships.

To date, Fourier – which has been infusing creativity into exoskeleton and rehabilitation robotics development since 2015 – has launched over 20 self-developed products globally, all geared towards the purpose of improving patients’ lives through better quality and access to tech and robotic-led rehabilitation.

It also aims to grow its global team, which currently has around 400 people, and will be concentrating its efforts on creating new teams in Australia, the United States and Europe.

“We are focusing a lot on research and want to add the right talent to the team. We will start in Australia first as that is closest to us, but we don’t see geography as a challenge in preparing teams, working remotely is now something we are all used to,” says Zen.

In 2020, Fourier developed and launched its pioneering intelligent robotic solution, RehabHub, which is widely used in neurorehabilitation, elderly care, and community-based rehabilitation settings.

The comprehensive rehabilitation solution is equipped with highly efficient, interconnected, and cost-effective robots that deliver functional training, assisting clinicians in providing treatments and enabling effective and consistent rehab to patients.

RehabHub is an area in which Fourier is set to see significant further growth, with Zen highlighting the potential for collaboration, supported by ongoing investment in all areas of its technology – from  its pioneering hardware, software and AI through to the telerehab system used in support of its implementation.

“We aim to build a world-leading collaborative rehabilitation ecological system, through our RehabHub concept, and to consolidate Fourier’s global leading position further to create greater value for our customers,” says Zen, who is an ambassador for IISART.

“We think we are well-positioned to collaborate with some of the leading players in the field through our RehabHub concept. Through collaboration and working together in a positive way, we can move this industry forward – but by competing in a malicious way, that will set us all back. We want to work together for the benefit of this industry so it is responsible and sustainable.

“Fourier was founded as we had seen the challenges that exist and wanted to see how we could make it better, how could we promote this industry better. We seem to be doing the right things and our strategy has been put together from 20 years in the ‘School of Hard Knocks’- we have learned the hard way through experience.

“We wanted to change mindsets – 20 years ago, you’d never have imagined using a mobile phone app to get a taxi, but Uber have totally changed the mindset. Technology supports the convenience of this and now makes it indispensable. We have the same principle in empowering clinicians to make a different to patients’ lives.

“We see collaboration as being something really promising for the future. We have already successfully licensed technologies from universities, completed technology transfer and productisation, and collaborate with more than 30 strategic alliance partners under the RehabHub concept. By working together we will make things happen.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging period for the business, it is now poised for further growth, underpinned by how widely technology has been embraced in healthcare globally, marking a huge departure from its previous approach.

”Underpinning the successful financing is our impressive growth numbers in recent years, and increased global adoptions, despite the challenging COVID-19 pandemic,” says Zen.

“This has been a challenging period for us, as it has been for a lot of companies, but the pandemic has fuelled the need to reduce reliance on manual clinical interventions, vindicating our advocation of technology integration in rehabilitation.

“Rapid iterations and the ability to deliver high performance, low cost, and efficient technological solutions are key to successful clinical adoptions.

“Fourier is well-positioned to capture the opportunity enabled by advanced rehabilitation robotics. We’re pleased to be part of this exciting global shift towards technology-focused healthcare solutions and believe Fourier’s domain-specific expertise will lead and fuel innovative solutions for the healthcare challenges we see today.”

Looking forward, and with significant global plans already in place, Fourier is now set for the next phase of its growth, supported by the backing of Saudi Aramco.

“Our partnerships with Prosperity7 Ventures and Aramco Ventures inspire and strengthen our resolve in delivering innovative healthcare solutions. Fourier will continue to invest in our core technologies to stay ahead of the competition,” adds Zen.

“We look forward to the next stage of our journey, together with our strategic partners.”

Tech

Fourier Intelligence continues international collaboration

The rehab robotics pioneer has signed a MoU with Centro Europeo de Neurosciencias

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Rehab robotics unicorn Fourier Intelligence is continuing its work in advancing the fast-growing sector by forming a new partnership with Centro Europeo de Neurosciencias (CEN). 

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will focus on the testing of new and existing rehabilitation robotic devices created by Fourier Intelligence. 

Fourier Intelligence robotics are already in use around the world, with testing and feedback undertaken continually to ensure they are best equipped to improve patients’ lives and deliver the highest standards of rehabilitation. 

With a track record of healthcare excellence and research, working alongside international partners, CEN already makes an important contribution on a global scale and will be a key partner in the further development of Fourier Intelligence’s portfolio of life-changing devices. 

The MoU is the latest to be signed by Fourier Intelligence with key global partners, as part of its commitment to working in collaboration with experts around the world to create world-leading rehab robotics. 

“The agreement of this MoU is another significant step in the ongoing development of rehabilitation robotics, which will improve patients’ lives,” says Zen Koh, co-founder and group deputy CEO of Fourier Intelligence. 

“CEN has an excellent international reputation and track record in healthcare and research, and we are delighted to partner with them in this way. The testing of new and existing Fourier Intelligence devices is critical to maximising patient outcomes, so this will be very important in achieving that.

“We believe collaboration is at the heart of developing this sector and making a difference in the lives of those who need this technology, and are very proud to have key partners around the world. Together, we will take this forward and make the positive change that is needed.”

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Tech

The patience of patients

Stroke survivor Lisa Beaumont reflects on her ongoing rehabilitation and the vital role NeuroProactive can play

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Rehabilitation cannot be rushed. Each patient needs to develop techniques to build the patience they need.

In Spring 2022, I faced the biggest setback in my rehabilitation journey so far. A problem with my leg splint meant that I was unable to walk for two to three months.

I learned plenty about myself during this interlude. While my orthotic was being replaced, I watched from my window while Spring became early Summer.  I could not leave my bedroom for several weeks. Most importantly, I learned about my techniques for managing my frustration with my situation.

I had plenty of time to reflect upon my situation and to consider ways that might avoid this situation happening for others. Access to digital solutions such as neuroproactive.com from the outset will offer solutions for the patients of the future. 

For the last eleven years I have focussed my energy on learning to walk again. Therefore, it took a substantial adjustment physically and mentally for me to adapt to being confined to one room without any possibility of walking anywhere. I chose to focus on two activities which were possible for me to do.

Firstly, I could still develop my cognitive rehabilitation through game-playing. I found several games I could play on my phone, including Wordle, Words with Friends and Solitaire. 

I realised that Solitaire, also known as the English card game Patience, makes a good analogy for any rehabilitation journey. There is only one player in the game, and you can win or lose depending on your actions and choices. You cannot speed up the pace of the game, but you at least know where you are.  

Likewise, in rehabilitation. Neuroproactive.com offers features that would have avoided some of my frustration this Spring. It enables speedy communication between clinicians and patients. I would have had an opportunity to track the progress of my replacement splint. And it would have been a single place for the orthotist, physiotherapist and district nurses to discuss my case.

I realised that a strength of neuroproactive.com is that it recognises the central role that a patient has in their rehabilitation journey.  Consequently, the platform validates the patient’s experiences by giving them the ability so see and to help manage the input they need from their team of clinicians.

The other second activity was that part of the physiotherapy that I could still do – exercises in bed and upper limb work.  My carers supported me by helping me to count and record my repetitions and by monitoring the quality of my movements.

How could neuroproactive.com have helped to improve my situation? My situation could potentially have been avoided through better
communication between my orthotist, physiotherapist, GP and my team of carers. Neuroproactive.com can act as a single shared space for each person to share updates and photos.  

As more practitioners gain access to, and familiarity with, Neuroproactive.com and its features, new and exciting ways to use it will emerge.

We’re in the process of rolling out Neuro ProActive to 31 NHS Trusts.

You can find out more online www.Neuroproactive.com or connect with us on Twitter @NeuroProActive.

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Tech

ONWARD – making the impossible possible

CEO Dave Marver discusses its pioneering work in spinal cord injury and the new hope for people living with paralysis

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Professor Gregoire Courtine, Dr Jocelyne Bloch, Dave Marver

The concept of three people living with complete paralysis regaining the ability to walk independently is something that, in the very recent past, would have been dismissed as being impossible – but through the work of ONWARD, this one-time ‘impossibility’ is now becoming reality. 

For years, spinal cord injury has been regarded by many as the ‘graveyard of neuroscience’, where hope was in short supply and the outlook for those daring to dream of the day that may change was bleak. 

But now, through the efforts of pioneers who have led the research breakthroughs that are now shaping reality, the ability of technology to change lives is being seen by the whole world, with people watching in amazement as paralysed patients rediscover the ability to move. 

After being implanted with spinal stimulation technology developed by ONWARD – the first time its epidural electrical stimulation (EES) had been trialled in humans – all three participants who were part of the STIMO-BRIDGE trial were able to take steps independently within a single day.

After five months of rehabilitation, they were also able to use their legs to stand, walk, swim, and/or cycle. They also regained control of their trunk muscles. 

Such colossal steps forward in SCI are now giving new hope to people living with paralysis – and are helping to show, rather than being impossible, what could become the new possible for the future. 

“We were very pleased with the results of STIMO-BRIDGE, although we as a company are not going to be pleased with just impacting subjects in a clinical trial,” Dave Marver, CEO of ONWARD, tells NR Times. 

“Our job and our unique role is to scale these therapies so they can provide benefit to hundreds of thousands of people with spinal cord injury around the world. 

“These results show great promise, but we still have a tremendous amount of work to do to achieve our vision.” 

And for ONWARD, that vision is to change the lives of people living with SCI globally, to enable them to enjoy and live their lives in the ways that matter most to them. 

Established in 2014 to focus specifically on SCI, the venture has led truly groundbreaking research into this long-underserved area. 

Founded by neurosurgeon Dr Jocelyne Bloch and Professor Gregoire Courtine, Swiss-based ONWARD has taken decades of research and translational science to bring to fruition two viable commercial solutions. 

With its ARC EX and ARC IM devices, ONWARD – backed by many of the leading European life sciences venture capital investors – has led the charge on redefining the outlook for SCI patients. 

Its ARC IM, recently subject to the STIMO-BRIDGE trial, consists of an implantable pulse generator and lead that is placed near the spinal cord, controlled by wearable components and a smartwatch. A pivotal trial is set to begin within the next 12 to 18 months. 

The ARC EX is an external, non-invasive wearable stimulator and wireless programmer, which targets the rediscovery of upper body movement. Currently subject to the international Up-LIFT trial – the largest SCI trial of its kind – it completed enrolment of 65 participants ahead of schedule, despite the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently being trialled at sites across the world – including in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC), as well as Neurokinex sites in England – the aim, pending necessary approvals, is for a commercial launch in the first half of 2023. 

But while the excitement at the potential of ONWARD is palpable, with the first introduction of its technology into rehabilitation centres across the United States, UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands potentially barely a year away, Dave is keen to ensure expectations remain realistic.  

“Certainly this will give hope to people, and I think the fact we enrolled all 65 subjects in Up-LIFT ahead of schedule, despite all the challenges of clinics closing and difficulties with quarantines and so forth, speaks to the enthusiasm that the clinical community has for this therapy,” he says.

“They have really embraced it, as the participants did in STIMO-BRIDGE. We, and they, are showing what is possible. 

“But I do think it’s important to not overstate it, I don’t want to create false hope, because these subjects really committed themselves to the therapy and to the rehabilitation process. 

“I think there is great potential that many people with paralysis will be able to stand again with the benefit of our therapies, maybe take some steps. But then it really depends on their particular circumstances and their overall level of health, their willingness to commit to rehabilitation, whether they can go further than that. 

“And, of course, not everyone with spinal cord injury, desires necessarily to walk again, they may have other priorities. And that’s why ONWARD is also committed to addressing other challenges that affect the quality of daily life, such as blood pressure and trunk control and use of better use of the upper extremities. 

“And then in the future, we’ll be looking at incontinence and restoration of sexual function, the whole battery of things that people with SCI have to contend with.”

Through its longstanding and deep-rooted commitment to the SCI community, ONWARD has secured relationships with of some of the world’s leading organisations in this area, including the International Spinal Research Trust and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The latter has even become ONWARD shareholders, to help further its pioneering work. 

For Dave, while the word ‘pioneering’ is well-used, for ONWARD, it is also well-earned. 

“I think we are seen as pioneers in this area because we’ve chosen to focus on serving the spinal cord injury community,” he says. 

“It’s a smaller population than other populations with movement-related challenges, like stroke and Parkinson’s, for example. Most businesses orientate toward the largest potential markets, whereas our founders really had a passion for helping people with spinal cord injury. 

“And that remains the core vision, that was their raison d’être, and it’s with that commitment and determination that we have achieved such progress. 

“We haven’t partnered with existing spinal cord stimulation companies, we’ve developed our own technology platform that is built for the specific purpose of not stimulating the spinal cord for pain management, but stimulating the spinal cord to restore strength and function.

“But I think the progress we have made also reflects the close collaboration that we enjoy and value with our scientific partners. We have a group of people so committed and driven by our mission, which I think is why we make the progress we have done. 

“We develop that lead together in a very rigorous way, with our vision at the heart of that.”

Constantly looking to the next innovation and how its technologies can be even more beneficial to those who need them, ONWARD is also considering how, post-commercial launch, its ARC EX could be used remotely. 

“Later, we’ll be seeking approval for it to be used in people’s homes, so they can conduct periodic sessions maybe once or twice a week in their homes to continue gains that they have observed in the clinic, and build on those gains,” says Dave. 

“We’ll be looking at a successor study to Up-LIFT which would look at safety and performance when used in the home. 

“Without question, it’s important with spinal cord injury to be able to operate this technology, which is why we were keen to incorporate voice activation into the system. Both of our platforms can be programmed by the clinician, but in the future may be operated by and used by the injured with their voices. 

“But very importantly, we do our best to connect as frequently as possible with people with injury to inform the design of our product platforms, and inform our future direction as a company. 

“We consider ourselves part of the community, so that feedback to ensure the design of our technologies is really usable and accessible, in my view, is vitally important.”

And with such huge advances and new-found hope for the future, many conversations have turned to whether SCI may be curable. 

“I wouldn’t rule anything out, with human ingenuity and so forth, but what I would say is more realistic at this point is to have optimism – quite a bit of optimism – that movement and strength and function can improve, and in some cases, be restored with the benefit of therapies like ours,” says Dave. 

“Perhaps other therapies and technologies will emerge, if you look at how far we have come. But for us, our vision is to support the SCI community around the world through our therapies, and we’ll continue to do that. 

“We’re making steady progress across all areas of our plan, and while what we’re doing is difficult and complex, I’m confident we will come through.”

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