Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Wings helped Nurenyx focus their thinking on how to improve clinical trials

Nurenyx wants to improve the quality of clinical trials – for trial participants and to help speed up novel healthcare treatments for everyone’s benefit. The Wings Accelerator program helped them to focus on just how to do that.

Clinical trials play a key role in the development of new drugs and treatments. For many people, it represents what may be their best – and even sometimes their only – hope of a cure or a means of managing their disease.

Now, here is a sobering statistic, courtesy of John Okello, one of Nurenyx’s three co-founders and himself a medical researcher. “Over 80 percent of clinical trials fail.”

The reasons are not too hard to understand.  A trial often requires the participants to travel frequently to a hospital or a trial site, often during the workday. Front-line workers and service providers often cannot take the time off or work out the transportation needed, which cuts them out of trials. As many of these people are from racialized minorities, their absence skews the trial results demographically.

Okello along with Jason Evans and Palak Patel think they may have a solution. What they plan is, as they put it, to “virtualize” the clinical trials process, or as Okello puts it, “Take the trial to the patient.”

Nurenyx plans to do this by creating a secure digital platform made available across a variety of online channels, including computer desktops, mobiles, Facebook Messenger, Microsoft Teams, websites, and so on. For a richer interactive experience, the platform can also be accessed on extended reality headsets, such as the Microsoft HoloLens and Oculus Quest, among others.

“Our system could streamline drug trials,” says Jason Evans. Patients enrolled in a trial would be able to log onto a site and communicate with clinical trial staff about the doses they are taking or the effects they are experiencing. Patients could also contact a centralized knowledge bot 24-7, “which would provide a bundle of services, including medical information and a simple Q and A function to answer questions they might have about the trial itself or about side effects and symptoms.”  Clinicians and researchers would benefit from such a system as well, says Patel. “It offers real-time data collection. If there is a side effect, the patient can report it to the bot which relays that information to the doctor and or trial managers instantly, enabling near-real time decisions.”

The three have strong Queen’s connections. Okello and Patel worked on prostate cancer research together at Queen’s, where Patel was completing his PhD. Okello and Evans connected through the Queen’s Smith School of Business, Master of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.  Evans graduated in 2017; Okello, in 2018. After that, they founded Nurenyx. So perhaps it was inevitable that they would be drawn into Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s Wings Accelerator program, aimed at companies like theirs, motivated by a strong idea or product, but essentially pre-revenue.

“We first applied for support around creating an IP strategy,” says Jason. The trio soon discovered, however, that other parts of the program held additional value for them. “It was definitely the whole customer discovery and the value proposition” – finding out who your customers are and then articulating precisely what it is you have to offer them.

“We had multiple ideas, says, Okello. “Wings really helped us to pick one to talk to customers about and focus on that.”

Working closely with program co-directors Andrew Jackson and Elza Seregelyi helped prepare Nurenyx in other ways, too. “The one-on-one coaching really streamlined our thoughts, giving us a clearer vision for the company,” says Patel. “The biggest thing I appreciated was their honesty,” says Evans.

Post-Wings says, Okello, “We are continuing to focus and dig a little deeper,” paying particular attention to the patient experience in clinical trials. They also plan to return to some of the companies they spoke with during customer discovery. Their hope is that these potential future partners like where they are going with Nurenyx and say to them, “Let’s see if we can make some money.”

 

The Wings/Growth Acceleration program was made possible with support from the Government of Canada to Queen’s University through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and the Scale-up Platform Project which is led by Invest Ottawa in eastern Ontario and by Queen’s in the Kingston region.

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