MECO-FNR-Luxinnovation: Results of the first joint call for projects on health technologies

Four of eight projects submitted have been retained for funding following the first Joint Call for HealthTech projects launched in April 2021. The overall contribution of the FNR is 2.8 MEUR and that of the Ministry of the Economy 1.75 MEUR. The remaining costs are covered by the companies’ or research organisations’ own funds.

The joint call for projects launched by the Ministry of the Economy, the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) and Luxinnovation focused on the use of digital tools and the power of data analysis to improve the prevention, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of diseases.

It was aimed at stimulating collaborative R&D projects in the form of public-private partnerships (PPPs) and to provide financial support to companies and research and healthcare organisations that collaborate to assess the relevance of a technology/product/healthcare solution, its technological advantages and benefits for human health.

This is the first time in Luxembourg that such an initiative has been launched jointly by the Ministry of the Economy, the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) and Luxinnovation.

The selection process, which took place in two phases, covered 17 expressions of interest. Eight full proposals were submitted of which the following four were selected:

Project title

QTrobot – a digital therapeutic device for in-home therapy of children with autism

Main PI

Manon Gantenbein

Institution

Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH)

Collaborating company

Abstract

This project is proposing the development and validation of an early-stage development intervention, delivered by an expressive robot, QTrobot, as a novel digital therapeutic for at-home therapy of children with autism. The approach taken to validate the clinical effectiveness of the solution is a long-term, large scale and multinational clinical study which is one of its kind globally. The study compares the progress of children who receive the robot-based therapy at home, in addition to the usual care they are already receiving, in terms of social, cognitive, language and communication development as well as reduction of the autism symptomatology with progress of the children who only receive the usual care.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a childhood neurodevelopmental disorder affecting 1 in every 54 children and is presented with difficulties in social interaction and communication, restricted behaviours and interest and often delayed development in the areas of language, motor and cognitive among others.

Having no cure, life skills and autonomy of children with autism can be improved through early, intensive, and one-to-ne interventions, proven to be effective in reducing the needs for long term care and resulting in average cost saving of €1.1 million per person. However, due to the shortage of autism professionals and the high investments needed for delivering such interventions, children often do not receive sufficient interventions, if any.

QT can address the shortage of autism professionals by empowering parents to deliver standard and evidence-based therapies at home, providing effective, scalable, and affordable therapy for autistic children. In this project we are evaluating the effectiveness of this novel approach to early interventions for autism, delivered through a robot and in at-home setting. Furthermore, we are developing the necessary tools that can facilitate the delivery of the intervention with high level of fidelity, empowering parents of children with autism to create and optimise an individualized therapy plan for their children, to monitor their progress and contribute in their child’s development by playing an active role in the intervention, providing necessary prompts, reinforcements and interactions that are geared toward increasing the child’s ability to genialize the learnt skills from the robot to their natural social environment.

The project is a collaboration between the Luxembourg based company LuxAI, developer and manufacturer of QT and the Luxembourg Institute of Health, bringing together the specialties required for developing and clinically validating the QT as a medical device for at-home therapy of autistic children. The project also brings together autism scientists and clinicians from LU, DE, FR, IT and UK, proposing a novel and unique clinical study in terms of its scope, scale (190 participants in 5 countries) and duration (10-month intervention). By developing and validating a solution for an at-home robot-assisted therapy by parents, the project’s results are expected to provide considerable benefits in improving the health and well-being of autistic children and their families as well as to offer considerable reductions of autism costs for the public payers.

Project title

Advancing diagnosis and treatment of paediatric asthma by digital technology and deep immunophenotyping (Care4Asthma)

Main PI

Christiane Hilger

Institution & partner

Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) &

Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL)

Collaborating company

Meracle Health

Abstract

Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in children, and its prevalence has been rising globally during the past thirty years, touching up to 10% of the young population. Diagnosis and treatment are hampered by the fact that it is a heterogenous inflammatory disease with distinct underlying pathophysiological mechanisms. There is a medical need for non-invasive clinically applicable biomarkers to improve patient diagnosis and care. For children undergoing inhaled corticosteroid therapy, poor administration techniques and low compliance further influence therapy success.

In this project, we propose to combine biomarker research with a digital and easy to use technology monitoring administration of medication and quality of life of treated patients, aiming at an optimized and personalized medical care for children with chronic respiratory disease.

Project title

Gait & activity monitoring solution for patients with orthopaedic conditions (GAITORING)

Main PI

Laurent Malisoux

Institution & partner

Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) &

Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL)

Collaborating company

IEE

Abstract

The medical unmet need – Patients with common orthopaedic conditions such as musculoskeletal injuries (e.g. bone trauma), arthrosis, and/or following surgical procedures (e.g., anterior cruciate ligament reconstructions, osteotomies or knee prosthesis) require long medical follow-up with regular medical visits and many rehabilitation sessions. These represent standardised examination in a controlled environment, and unfortunately, do not ensure the patient for a safe and normal return to daily activities without any complaints or functional impairment in the short, medium or long term. Indeed, patients may experience impairments, alterations of their gait pattern, changes in physical activity behaviour and inappropriate loading for their respective pathology during their daily life activities. This would put them at risk of suffering from long-term consequences (i.e., arthrosis, secondary injuries). The possibility to remotely monitor gait patterns in patients would help clinicians in many ways such as detecting gait metrics that are out of normal range, avoiding load in the injured/operated limb, or controlling progressive load on it. Thus, monitoring the patient’s progress in daily living conditions is essential for proper adjustment of their treatment as well as to avoid long-term consequences.

The digital health solution – The WalkinSense system consists of pressure-sensitive insoles combined with inertial measurement units and comprises both the hardware and digital environment for the analysis and management of patient’s data. This new digital health solution will provide healthcare professionals with important and relevant information on the progress of their patients in their natural environment by detailing aspects of both movement quality (e.g., step cadence, contact time, symmetry in lower limbs loading) and quantity (e.g., number of steps, stairs climbed per day).

The research project – The main purpose of this project is to develop and validate a new digital health solution (i.e., the WalkinSense system) for remote monitoring of gait patterns in patients with orthopaedic conditions during daily life activities. We will first collect feedback from healthcare professionals to help identify the most critical gait features needed to evaluate the status and progress of their patients. Then, we will assess the safety and performance of the new digital health solution in the laboratory. In a third step, we will test the device in the real world in patients with orthopaedic conditions. This feasibility study will provide valuable information on the possibility to recruit patients for future trials, the compliance of patients using such a digital health solution, comfort and ease-of-use of the system. In parallel to these studies, the WalkinSense software environment will be developed and permanently improved based on the feedback from the studies. The validation against gold standards will result in a set of improved gait metrics algorithms of WalkinSense. We will use surveys to collect feedback from both patients and healthcare professionals, which will help develop the digital environment to meet the end-user’s expectations.

Impact – The proposed project will enable us to make important steps toward bringing the new digital health solution to the market by validating the WalkinSense against the current gold standard for gait related applications, while following the regulatory path toward medical certification of the device.

Project title

Monitoring “Long-Covid” impact on cognition via digital neuropsychological assessment (Digital Cognition)

Main PI

Magali Perquin

Institution

Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH)

Collaborating company

ViewMind

Abstract

The persistence of the COVID-19 disease symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, cardiovascular complications, depression and anxiety, pain, brain fog, loss of taste/smell, headaches as well as loss of memory has been evoked in many studies. This project aims at approaching the persistent symptomatology on cognition, more than 1 year after the infection.

When we refer to cognition, we refer to everything associated with knowledge, that is, the accumulation of information we have acquired through learning or from our experience. We can define cognitive processes as the processes we use to incorporate new knowledge and make decisions based on it. Through these processes several cognitive functions intervene: perception, attention, memory, reasoning, language, learning, decision-making. All of these cognitive functions work together to integrate knowledge as a whole and create an interpretation of the world around us. Usually neuropsychological tests are used to evaluate cognitive problems, they consist in different exercises sometimes with words, figures to draw, images to remember, movement to repeat, numbers to link together etc.

The DigiCog project here propose

1) to test and validate a very novel device, which uses the eyes movement during tasks to evaluate very quickly the cognitive functioning;

2) to study potential cognitive problems long-term after COVID-19; and

3) to explore how cognition could be preserved.

Finally, this project will also help to bring the innovative device tested to the market, for accurately monitoring people with long COVID.

The total budget for these four projects is estimated at 6.10 MEUR. An overall co-financing of some 4.5 MEUR comes from the Ministry of the Economy and the FNR, covering almost 75% of the total amount of the projects.

Minister of the Economy Franz Fayot commented: “This joint call for projects is part of the economic diversification strategy to further develop the health technology sector which is driven by innovation, resilience and competitiveness.”

Such calls for projects in the field of health technologies facilitate companies’ access to hospital or public research partnerships. This provides them with the opportunity to technically and clinically validate their medical products at the prototype stage, before envisaging a market launch.

This approach has the double advantage of speeding up companies’ development of products that are better adapted to patients’ needs, and also of making it possible for patients and health professionals to benefit earlier from the latest medical innovations, even before they are available on the market, which is in their interest.

For the Joint Call HealthTech, a structured selection process was followed, starting with the launch of the platform managed by Luxinnovation (https://www.research-collaboration.lu/) through which interested companies could be put in touch with potential partners.

The Joint Call HealthTech also allowed the team of the Pharmacy and Medicines Division of the Health Directorate to prepare the implementation of a regulatory framework conducive to business-led innovation in Luxembourg. This will speed up access for Luxembourg patients to innovative, safe and effective digital health medical devices, which is one of the strategic objectives of the future Luxembourg Agency for Medicines and Health Products.

The projects submitted were then subject to an in-depth examination by the funding authorities. Firstly, by an independent panel of experts, under the aegis of the FNR, which assessed the innovative quality of the projects in relation to international standards. Secondly, by the Advisory Commission on State Aid, under the aegis of the Ministry of the Economy, which validated the consistency of the projects with the criteria for state aid for development and innovation. Experts from the Health Directorate gave their opinion during the two deliberations.

“FNR’s strategy is to promote collaboration between public research institutions, companies and health sector stakeholders around research and innovation projects aimed at accelerating the digital transformation in the health sector. ” explains Marc Schiltz, CEO of the FNR.

“Within the context of these public-private partnerships, the Luxinnovation team focuses especially on following up the project ideas submitted. In particular, we work on bringing together the various public and private partners interested in participating. In this way, we are activating a key lever for innovation in our country”, adds Sasha Baillie, CEO of Luxinnovation.

In view of the success of this first call for projects, it is planned to launch other similar joint calls, notably in the fields of defence and high-performance computing, as well as a new call for health technologies.

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