"Medicine and design can benefit each other perfectly"

What is the point of groundbreaking medical research if there are no devices to test it clinically? Or having an effective vaccine when there aren’t enough doses? The Antwerp-based medical device company Novosanis has proven its worth by launching innovative medical devices on the market.

Novosanis CEO Vanessa Vankerckhoven
Novosanis CEO Vanessa Vankerckhoven

“Novosanis is a spin-off from UAntwerpen, having spanned a bridge between the Institute for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases and the Product Development Department,” explains CEO Vanessa Vankerckhoven. “Our company today is therefore still a mix of medical, technical and creative profiles. The medical world and the design world appear to be far apart, but they can benefit each other perfectly.”

Innovative injection system

The synergy between the two fields became very clear in 2009, when the H1N1 virus – better known as the swine flu or Mexican flu – broke out and available vaccine doses did not seem to be enough. “We started to brainstorm about an injection system capable of working with smaller volumes, allowing us to do more with less vaccine. It immediately kick-started our collaboration with Koen Beyers, manager of the Antwerp design and engineering agency Voxdale (and now also CTO at Novosanis, editor’s note). Although the university offered us great capabilities, we still needed an expert in industrial prototypes to ensure the concept would really come about. This innovative and patented injection system is now part of our portfolio. The VAX-ID™ is suitable for injection into the dermal layer of the skin and, because of the accuracy of the injection, minimizes loss of dose, among other advantages.”

A lifesaving device

While the H1N1 killed 17 female patients in Belgium, 226 women die every year from the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer. For the whole of Europe, the yearly number of victims reaches 13,000. “And while it can be perfectly detected in time with a smear test,” stresses Vanessa. “Unfortunately, many women don’t have the procedure due lack of time or inconvenience. Research has shown that HPV is also visible in the first void urine. A groundbreaking study ... only there were no medical devices to test it out clinically. This gave us the impetus to make such a device ourselves: the Colli-Pee. It is now patented and carries the CE label. Ready to be commercialized and save a lot of women.”

"Because of its user-friendly design, the intradermal puncture is less painful and it’s easier to handle, which makes the need for a doctor obsolete."

User-friendly to reach a greater audience

“As women will be able to take a urine sample at home with the Colli-Pee, it wll be possible to detect an HPV infection. It is currently used in the Netherlands to detect sexually transmitted deseases. The advantage of the design? It can simply be sent by post, is easy to use and can be returned just as easily. Thanks to the Colli-Pee we are therefore reaching a much larger group. The same can be said of the VAX-ID™: because of its user-friendly design, the intradermal puncture is less painful and it’s easier to handle, which makes the need for a doctor obsolete. In the future, nurses or pharmacists should be able to use it. Because of this, we will also reach more people more easily.

Room for medical creativity

“There are still so many design possibilities in the medical field, but I feel that many companies don’t seize those opportunities. Of course it takes effort: there are strict regulations, and rightly so. A strict framework with design control, but with room for improvements or adjustments. And yes, it’s expensive. The only way to reduce costs is to produce in large volumes. This means we need to be inventive when creating prototypes. And our strength lies precisely in our ingenuity and flexibility. That’s why major medical and diagnostics companies approach us to integrate our products with their vaccine development or diagnostic tests. It’s great for us, since they control the sales market.”

3 nights design & creativity festival, curated for the hungry.