EMVision brain scanning device

$2.5m grant backs a stroke of genius

Innovation

EMVision awarded $2.5 million grant for stroke detection device study.

Ron Weinberger’s dream is to have a helmet-sized brain scanning device in every ambulance, on every flying doctor aircraft, by hospital beds around the world and, one day, maybe even on the sideline of every football game.  

That dream came a little closer on Thursday night when it was announced that Weinberger’s ASX-listed company, EMVision, had been awarded a $2.5 million grant to further study the efficacy of the machine’s first iteration – as a hospital-bedside stroke detection device.

Coincidentally, it is the same amount that Australia’s then richest man, Kerry Packer, donated in 1990 to pay half the cost of a defibrillator in every ambulance in NSW.  The billionaire had suffered a heart attack on the polo field and had enjoyed the good fortune of being resuscitated by one of the few ambulances in the state to carry one of the heart-starting devices. They have henceforth been known as “Packer Whackers” in Australia and their more widespread availability has been attributed to saving unknown thousands of lives.

EMVision CEO Dr Ron Weinberger
EMVision CEO Dr Ron Weinberger

 In the same way, EMVision’s vision is that its second-generation electromagnetic scanner – an 8kg device a little larger than a bike helmet and costing “in the tens of thousands” – becomes equally ubiquitous. It will assess whether a patient has had a stroke and whether it is the type resulting from a blockage in the brain’s blood supply or from a bleed on the brain. The difference is important because the treatments differ, and the speed of their administration is crucial.

Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide. Globally, there are 12.2 million strokes each year and 6.5 million people die from it, according to figures from the World Stroke Organization. In 2020, 27,428 Australians experienced a stroke for the first time – one every 19 minutes. The number of cases is predicted to double by 2050.

 The device – which will contain all the tech within the helmet – will transmit the information to a neurologist who can advise paramedics.

Currently, the patient needs to be wheeled into the basement of a hospital where the CT or MRI machines costing in the millions are often busy.

The first generation of the device is about to be studied across three hospitals in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney starting this month. It is built into a trolley that can be wheeled to a hospital bedside where the scanner – like an old-fashioned hairdresser’s hairdryer – is put on the patient’s head.

The technology grew out of research done at the University of Queensland. In 2020, a clinical trial of 50 patients at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital showed it was 98 per cent accurate.

The company, which had floated in December 2018 at 0.25c a share, saw its share price soar to $4.00 in November 2020 after the successful clinical trial. It has since lost more than half of that value.  Its market capitalisation since the float has increased eightfold to $120 million. 

Dr Weinberger, CEO and director at EMVision, had come from sterilisation device maker Nanosonics where he started in the R&D department and rose to be CEO.

He said he joined EMVision after bumping into a colleague, Robert Tiller, who insisted they sit down for a coffee. Tiller told him about EMVision. “And he thought this was one of the most exciting things he’s come across. And he’s been in the design and development sector for almost 30 years,” recalled Weinberger. “And he said, ‘Look, Ron, you really need to get involved in this opportunity because not only is it so exciting from a technology perspective, but if we can start to solve some of these really major clinical unmet needs in diagnosis and imaging of stroke, we’re really going to be doing something substantial.”

Weinberger’s father had died of a stroke. “The good news about stroke, in the last 10 years the treatments available have become incredibly effective,” says EMVision co-found Scott Kirkland. “The drugs to dissolve a clot or the surgery to relieve it are super effective. That’s one of the big reasons we’re focussing on it, because you can do something about it if you get an image quick enough.”

Weinberger says they often get asked about its potential for other brain disorders, like dementia, but that traumatic brain injury was the most logical field to look at next. “Where there is blood on the brain as a result of an accident and it needs to be diagnosed …. So there’s plenty of opportunity for the ‘gen-2’ device to be used on football fields for example. And then potentially looking to brain tumours as well.”  

EMvision, had been co-founded by Kirkland, formerly in sales at artificial intelligence-driven marketing company Quantcast, with start-up investor Ryan Laws.

The $2.5 million grant announced on Thursday was from the NSW Medical Devices Fund, run by the NSW Office for Health and Medical Research and will be repaid when the company reaches an as yet unstated level of earnings.

It goes towards $8.2 million worth of “non-dilutive” funding expected by the company this quarter. That includes $1.2 million in milestone payments from the Australian Stroke Alliance Medical Research Future Fund; a $2 million grant out of a recent $5 million Modern Manufacturing Initiative award; and a $2.5 million R&D tax rebate.