Ecosystem Lessons: Rianne Rotink and Concord Neonatal transfer academic invention into clinical practice innovation

Alex Vernooij, CTO and co-inventor of Concord, Mara Berkhout, R&D engineer, Bjorn Valentijn, Clinical Training Manager, Rianne Rotink, CEO.

Moving from academic idea to a viable business is one of the biggest challenges facing universities around the world. Universities are breeding grounds for bright ideas and new innovations yet up to 95% of them fail to ever get to market. Within the Netherlands, this is extremely prevalent, as the home of 12 of the Top 200 universities in the world the lack of startup success continues to be a battle.

However, some strong examples do exist. One person showcasing how to successfully bring science to clinical practice is Rianne Rotink who, with NLC, founded Concord Neonatal. Back in 2017, Rianne was introduced to the inventors of Concord from Leiden University Medical Center, Prof. Arjan te Pas, and Alex Vernooij. LUMC has developed an innovative care concept, that has the potential to reduce complications at birth by allowing doctors to help babies breathe before cutting the “lifeline” umbilical cord.

NLC who did the introduction is a European health tech venture builder based in Amsterdam who connect academics with successful entrepreneurs to help solve the problem of getting new health tech innovations to market. Rianne goes onto explain what happened next:

After validation, we decided that this invention not only offers good business potential but has a real relevant impact on the lives of many babies and their families. Therefore Concord Neonatal was founded by NLC and me in April 2017, as a spinoff from LUMC. I quit my corporate job in June 2017 to join Concord Neonatal as the CEO.
NLC’s 4 step process

We sat down with Rianne to find out more about this innovation, it’s origins and next steps

How did you start your career?

I have a master of science in Industrial Design Engineering and studied at TU Delft. I have over 18 years experience in commercial leadership roles in international medical device companies. Moving from corporate culture to running a startup really made a difference to bring science to clinical practice much faster and truly make a difference in the lives of people.

If you were to explain your solution to a five-year-old, what would you say?

Usually, a baby immediately cries when it's born. But around 1 in 10 babies is in trouble at birth and does not cry or even breathe at birth. Cutting the umbilical cord immediately after birth, when the baby is not breathing yet, can cause injury and damage the organs, especially the brain. The reason that the baby needs to be taken away from its mom is for the doctor to help the baby to breathe with a machine.
Concord makes it possible for the doctor to help the baby to breathe before cutting the “lifeline” umbilical cord. This means that he can treat the baby immediately after birth, close to mom, with the umbilical cord connected until it is breathing on its own. These babies and their parents have a better chance of a healthy life.

How will Concord Neonatal impact the future of health for everyday people or those around them?

Concord introduces this new way of working facilitated by an innovative support trolley, to improve the lives of many babies and their families that have a difficult start in life.
In The Netherlands around 17.000 babies have a difficult start (this affects around 50 babies and their families every day), resulting in complications at birth, long term minor and major disabilities and even death (see Programma Kansrijke Start). Worldwide this is affecting around 35.000 babies every day.
Concord has the potential to reduce complications at birth, prevent long term disability and may even prevent death.
The Concord Birth Trolley

Do you have any additional facts and figures to back up the impact of Concord?

There are a lot of facts and figures about the problem of birth complications and bad outcomes for babies (WHO fact sheet, Healthy Newborn Network).
WHO recommends delaying cord clamping with 1–3 minutes. Unfortunately, this is not done today for babies who need help breathing, which is the group that will benefit most. This is because of lacking infrastructure to deliver adequate care to the baby with the cord intact.
In October 2018, LUMC has published a first clinical study, showing that baby’s who have a Concord Birth have a “shock free birth”: a stable blood flow, a high and stable heart rate and higher oxygen levels in their blood. It is to be expected that improved and stable circulation will reduce the risk of complications like bleeding in the brain.

Publication: https://fn.bmj.com/content/early/2018/10/03/archdischild-2018-315483

What stage are you at with Concord Neonatal?

Concord Neonatal was founded in April 2017 to facilitate larger clinical trials to prove the impact. All 10 Dutch NICUs will be collaborating in this research that has been initiated by LUMC, called the ABC-3 trial. The ABC-3 trial started in January 2019 at LUMC, who use a prototype of the Concord Birth Trolley. A CE certified device is needed to allow these hospitals to collaborate in this research. Concord Neonatal is now in the final stages of product development.

What’s next for Concord Neonatal?

We have just launched our product at a symposium in Dresden last week and we expect to have CE before April 1st. We plan to start implementation of Concord, including an accredited training program, in the Dutch hospitals participating in the trial in the next couple of months. Additionally, we are planning to market Concord in western European countries.

How do you feel the overall Startup Medical scene in the Netherlands is like?

This is my first startup so it is hard to compare. The Netherlands has many different startup scenes and positives and negatives are related to the specific network you are in. I do think many startups are reinventing the wheel for many organizational aspects, like setting up a quality system, finding a good CRM etc.
The funding landscape is very fragmented, providing bits of money to many different startups. I think that funding, especially grants, could probably be allocated more effectively. The startup scene, in general, is very product and technology focused, where we know that innovative technology is not always needed to successfully innovate and make an impact.
To find out more about the great work being done at Concord Neonatal find their website here.