Health Care and Economic Development and Life Science & Biotech and Technology

European firm plants local roots in patient technology: Company to start Indianapolis operation after test

February 7, 2005

A British company has picked Methodist Hospital and Indianapolis as the birthing ground for a new way to monitor patients using technology inspired by jet engines.

Oxford BioSignals Ltd. hopes to roll out its BioSign technology by the end of this year, but the Rolls-Royce partner won't leave the city after testing ends.

The company also plans to start business operations here, much to the delight of those nurturing the life sciences industry.

BioSignals will begin testing its BioSign product on Methodist patients, with their consent, this month. The new technology aims to upgrade patient monitoring by giving doctors and nurses better warning when a patient's condition starts to deteriorate.

The technology takes five patient vital signs already monitored-heart rate, respiration, temperature, blood pressure and oxygen saturation-and processes them in a different way.

In traditional patient monitoring, an alarm sounds when the vital signs pass a certain threshold. The BioSign approach fuses those vital signs to come up with a "patient status index," according to CEO Matthew Walls. That index is then compared with a norm established by algorithms developed to reflect a population of similar "at risk" patients.

BioSign sounds its alarm when a patient's vital signs leave that norm, meaning nurses or doctors might receive a quicker indication of problems.

Kathy Rapala, director of patient safety and risk management for Clarian Health Partners, compares the BioSign warning to the gut instinct experienced nurses often develop. Veteran nurses can look at a patient and tell if something is amiss, even though traditional monitoring indicates nothing wrong, she said.

Vital signs might give subtle indications that trouble is brewing up to three hours before a patient's condition slides to a critical stage. Traditional monitoring misses this, but early indications show that BioSign does not.

"The beauty of this technology is, it kind of is a way to capture that [nurse's] intuition with a device," Rapala said.

Current patient monitoring leaves a lot to be desired, according to Dr. Daniel Z. Sands, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Intensive care monitors, for instance, sound many false alarms. Health care workers either tend to ignore them or set them way beyond normal limits.

"Basically, the system isn't working," he said.

Sands said he wasn't familiar with the BioSign technology, and he wonders how effective it will be monitoring the complex cases seen in intensive care units. But he also said the idea is "worth investigation."

The technology behind BioSign was developed in the mid-1990s and originally created to monitor jet engines, Walls said. In that use, it tracks engine vibrations, senses change, and warns of possible bearing, thrust or balance issues.

"It says this is something different, something I don't recognize here," Walls said.

In 2003, Rolls-Royce assumed a 30-percent share in Oxford BioSignals. When the latter considered developing its BioSign business in the U.S. market, Indianapolis became the obvious place to start because of the Rolls Royce presence here, Walls said.

He cited Clarian's emphasis on patient safety as a reason his company chose Methodist for its U.S. test site. Methodist is one of the hospitals in the Clarian Health Partners network.

Walls said BioSign will debut in the U.S. market first, pending FDA approval, and then head to Europe. BioSignals plans to start building its North American operations from Indianapolis.

In the short term, that might mean hiring a handful of people. But that could change depending on sales, Walls said.

BioSignals will be a welcome addition to the life sciences scene, according to Ron Meeusen, chief scientific officer for BioCrossroads, an initiative of life sciences and economic development leaders.

Businesses developed with help from larger companies like Rolls-Royce come with several advantages, he said. They include a deeper understanding of their market and a better appreciation of regulatory and development paths.

"They tend to have a higher success rate," he said.


New technology being tested here might provide an earlier warning of patient problems.
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