Meet the founder of Medisieve
1. So, who is George Frodsham?
I moved from England to a small village in the French Alps when I was eight. After a couple of stints in San Francisco, my family settled down in London, where I then attended Southbank International School.
I went on to study Physics & Philosophy at Kings College London, getting a First and winning the prestigious “Best Student Ambassador Tour” in 2008. Having fostered an interest in magnetic nanoparticles, I did a Masters in Nanotechnology at University College London. During the year, I met Quentin Pankhurst, and asked him to supervise his Masters project: a magnetic haemofilter to treat leukaemia.
I later graduated with a Distinction and went on to continue my work on a PhD project, raising my own grant funding along the way. In 2014, I founded MediSieve Ltd to commercialise my research, and has since won over £100k in support. This includes an Enterprise Fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a scholarship to the London Business School Entrepreneurship Summer School and most recently a runner-up prize for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub ERA Foundation Award – which not only provides a grant but also mentoring and support.
2. How did Magnetic Haemofiltration come about?
During my masters in nanotechnology, I toyed with the idea of using magnetic nanoparticles to target and remove specific components from blood. After looking into this in a bit more detail, I found out about the magnetic properties of malaria infected cells and just thought: “If they’re magnetic, why not just pull them out?”
3. How have you funded the business so far?
My PhD was funded by a range of grants, many of which were awarded after I applied during my second year. The most notable of these was a grant from the Rosetrees Trust, which paid for the 3D printers to make our first prototypes and conduct our first experiments.
In terms of MediSieve Ltd, which is still a very early stage company, I was awarded an enterprise fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, funded by the BBSRC, which has helped to get the company up, and running; then most recently receiving an Enterprise Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub.
4. Being a young entrepreneur – what do you enjoy the most about running your own business?
I just enjoy solving problems, and running a business seems to be largely problem solving. I like being faced with particular challenges and figuring out how to overcome them. But I also really enjoy meeting and talking to the people relevant to MediSieve: investors, partners, scientific advisors, business mentors, malaria clinicians and patients. It’s exciting and invigorating, and I learn new things every day. It’s good fun.
5. What makes Magnetic Haemofiltration so unique?
For about 100 years, humanity has focussed on chemical or biological drugs to treat diseases of all types. Rarely do new approaches emerge from the fields of Physics or engineering. When they have in the past (think MRI, X-rays, and haemodialysis), they have been very successful. Especially when considering a disease such as malaria, in which drug-resistance has had such a dramatic impact in the past (and threatens to again in the not very distant future), a physical, drug-free treatment can be an extremely valuable alternative or complement to pharmaceutical treatments. We actually believe that there will be many other applications for magnetic haemofiltration beyond malaria.
6. What was your first big breakthrough?
In 2014, with the grant money from the Rosetrees trust, I was able to do a research trip to Colombia and test our 3D printed prototypes on samples of malaria infected blood. Up to that point, I didn’t really know if it was going to work. It was a big moment when the first experiments clearly showed efficient capture of infected cells.
7. Have you had any complications on the way and how did you solve them?
Of course! And I’m sure we have many more to come! One significant challenge was to develop a product which could be affordable and cost-effective to treat a disease which impacts predominantly the developing world. Cost is a huge factor in the success or failure of a potential malaria treatment. As such we went through several rounds of simplification to arrive at a design which we thought could deliver the required performance at an affordable price (even if we don’t know exactly what that price will be yet!). And of course throughout the project we have been operating with a very limited budget.
8. How does Magnetic Haemofiltration work?
Malaria infected cells are naturally magnetic: when a malaria parasite infects a red blood cell, it breaks down the haemoglobin gradually producing a waste product known as haemozoin (or the “malaria pigment”), which is magnetic. The parasite multiplies as it consumes the cell and the haemozoin it produces is stored within the cell, making infected cells magnetic. In other words: the malaria parasite’s poo is magnetic.
We just exploit those properties to remove infected cells from the bloodstream. The challenge has been to design a magnetic filter powerful enough to remove the (admittedly very weakly magnetic) cells at a flow rate that would enable the procedure to be performed on a patient in a few hours.
The image above summarises very simply how magnetic haemofiltration can be used to remove infected cells from a patient’s bloodstream.
9. How do you plan on getting it to the areas that need it the most?
We will need help! We will be rolling this treatment out to patients in hospitals initially – according to the WHO there are over 5.5 million malaria inpatients every year, with over 100,000 hospital deaths. However, this represents only one sixth of the total estimated malaria deaths, so the biggest challenge, as with drugs, will be getting the treatment to those who need it most. We will look to work with the global anti-malaria community (Global Fund, Roll Back Malaria, Medicines for Malaria Venture, WHO and Gates Foundation), using their expertise to help us to reach as many patients as possible.
10. Think back to when you’d just started out – what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
The process has been more difficult that I imagined, both in terms of the engineering and business strategy. I would have spent more time looking at how I was planning to drive adoption, and carefully considering who this is for. I would have talked to malaria clinicians (and potential customers) much earlier. In terms of turning an academic project into a business, I would like to go back and tell myself how little I really know to get me out there learning about business and building a successful start-up earlier.
11. What do you hope to achieve from this venture?
I think that magnetic haemofiltration has huge potential. My primary focus is just to get it out there – at the moment, my goal is to save one life. Beyond that, I want to build a truly successful company that delivers value to both its customers and its shareholders, and that will mean moving the technology beyond malaria into other areas. That’s a long way away, but receiving support and money from the likes of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub certainly helps to take steps in the right direction.
12. What is your favourite cheat snack to have and why?
I don’t snack, so coffee. I could quit whenever I want – I just don’t want to. It’s not an addiction, it’s just that I need it to make it through the day!
13. What advice would you give to young budding entrepreneurs wanting to launch a product in the same industry?
Get as much help and advice as possible, but don’t take it at face value. As in life, there may be no right or wrong answer to your particular question/dilemma, so get as much advice as possible and choose what seems to be the best option. Only do things that are important as time is your most precious resource, so don’t waste it working on things you don’t need.
Pay attention to the questions people ask you – they will come up again and again, so make sure you can answer them. When you have your answer, ask yourself if you can prove your answer is correct.
People (especially investors) don’t care about how something works, but what value it brings. In my case, what is important is not that I can use magnets to reduce parasite burdens, but that I can reduce deaths from severe malaria and treat drug-resistant patients.
Get involved with existing programmes and schemes; they are designed to help you not catch you out. Try the Royal Academy of Engineering, which offers several different awards for research-based entrepreneurs or Pitch@Palace.
14. What plans do you have for Magnetic Haemofiltration in the next 12 months?
We’re still at a very early stage. The next step is to build clinical prototypes and perform the required safety testing to prove that it’s completely safe for use on humans. We have some preliminary data on that, but need to go further and importantly on a device that could be used on a human (rather than something I threw together on a shoestring budget in our workshop). I hope that, over the next year, we can get to the point where we’re ready for clinical trials.
Achieving that means raising funds. My main job right now is to get investment and grant money into MediSieve so that we can push forward with product development. The Enterprise Hub mentors will be a great asset here, their networks are phenomenal and they will support us in finding the right people to invest in our project.