Luminate Medical, an Irish medical device company developing devices to eliminate hair loss during chemotherapy announced that it has raised more than $5 million in grant financing and a seed round investment, from investors including Elkstone Capital, SciFounders, and Faber VC.
Aaron Hannon, the company’s cofounder and CEO, says that while chemotherapy has this incredible capability in destroying cancer cells, it has terrible impact on the patients and one of the biggest side effects is them losing their hair.
“Hair loss has a massive impact psycho socially on patients, as it’s linked with higher rates of depression and anxiety,” Hannon says. “We were talking to a young mother who had breast cancer and I remember her saying that she really wanted to keep her hair just so her kids think she’s okay.”
Luminate is currently developing the product Lilly, a wearable headset device that patients use during and for short time after chemotherapy to prevent hair loss from happening. Lily is a little cap that patients own themselves and bring to treatment and it works by applying a gentle progressive massage onto the surface of the scalp. The pressure prevents chemotherapy from being delivered through the tiny little blood vessels that feed the hair follicles.
“We are trying to protect those hair follicles while chemo is active into the system and once its been processed by the body, we slowly allow blood to restore and to continue to feed the follicles in a normal way,” Hannon says.
Luminate is scheduled to treat its first patients this year in Europe and is still confirming the final dates aiming for September/October for a controlled pilot study. Its goal would be to submit for clearance from the FDA to market the device to any patient in the U.S.at the end of 2023.
The company currently treats the majority of solid tumor cancers, though it doesn’t take patients that have blood based cancers because what Lily does is manipulate the flow of chemotherapy through the blood. In terms of its technology, in preclinical testing it has shown that about 80% of subjects had strong hair retention when using Lily, while also seeing up to 90% reduction in blood flow reduction around hair follicles.
The company was cofounded when Martin O’Halloran, a professor of medical electronics at National University of Ireland, Galway offered Hannon (a student at the school at the time) to work at the Translational Medical Device Lab at the university. Professor O’Halloran was also mentoring a PhD student at the time, Portuguese native Barbara Oliveira, and Oliveira and Hannon were sitting next to each other.
“I was working on devices that helped people with physical disabilities to be able to live their life and couldn’t do basic tasks,” Hannon says. “Martin was mentoring Barbara through her PhD in breast cancer research and while sitting next to each other we realized we had a lot of ideas in common.”
In January of 2020, the three cofounders launched the company with Hannon, originally from Ballina, in the Irish county of Mayo as a CEO, Oliveira originally from Lisbon as a CTO, and Galway native O’Halloran as the chief scientific adviser.
Later that year, Hannon made it to the Thiel Fellow list, and Luminate was accepted to Y Combinator’s summer class of 2021.
The company is currently headquartered in Galway Ireland and counts eight employees.
Alan Merriman, founder and general partner at Elkstone Capital, which co-led the round says that someone who has personally suffered from cancer, this is a space that resonates with him from a patient experience perspective.
“Anything that can reduce the emotional impact on cancer patients I think is well worth supporting,” Merriman says. “The current solutions that are out there are not user friendly, wigs are clearly are a very poor substitute, and therefore I think that what they are developing has a real place in the marketplace and a real opportunity to get commercial traction.”
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