Making it Work

CergenX raises €800k for newborn brain screening technology

The UCC spin-out is developing software that can screen for brain abnormalities in babies

Jason Mowles, CEO, Prof Geraldine Boylan, CSO, and Sean Griffin, CTO, at CergenX, the Cork medtech firm. Picture: David Jones

CergenX, a Cork-based medical company, has raised €800,000 in seed funding for a product it believes can significantly improve infant healthcare by making brain health monitoring part of standard newborn screening in hospitals.

The company, a spin-out of University College Cork, is developing software that can effectively screen for brain abnormalities in newborns. It uses AI algorithms to detect potential issues, allowing for earlier intervention.

Around five in every 1,000 newborns are born with some form of brain injury. Detecting such injuries early is crucial, but the existing solutions are not perfect. Currently, the most common way of testing is to carry out an electroencephalogram (EEG), a recording of brain activity. But this is a time-consuming and expensive process, and requires specialists to read the data.

“There’s very often a shortage of trained specialists available to interpret this data, and EEGs are not available in all hospitals, certainly not all regional hospitals,” Jason Mowles, the chief executive of CergenX, told the Business Post.

“That means that in a lot of cases these issues go undetected until an infant presents at a later date, in 18 or 24 months time, with development challenges. All of the research is telling us that early detection of brain injury is key to improving the long-term outcomes for babies. The algorithms we’re developing allow us to develop a software tool that can detect, or screen for, abnormal brain activity.”

Mowles said CergenX’s software would add to, rather than attempt to replace, the medical expertise of healthcare professionals.

“We have a large data bank to train our algorithms, and we’ve used that to develop a screening tool, rather than a diagnostic tool,” he said. “The algorithms won’t replace doctors’ expertise, but they will augment it. And we’re augmenting the clinical exams on newborn babies, to give more information about brain function.”

The Enterprise Ireland-backed company, which currently employs six full-time staff, is aiming to have developed a minimum viable product within nine months. After that, it will apply for regulatory approval in Europe and the US, which it hopes to obtain within 18 months. CergenX hopes to roll out its product commercially in the next three years.

The business hopes that by catching more abnormalities, it will help hospitals refer more infants for further testing, which can then accurately diagnose problems and lay the foundations for more effective treatments.

The algorithm could potentially screen babies born prematurely, or monitor newborns who have suffered a lack of oxygen, to pinpoint if they should receive treatments like cooling.

CergenX closed its seed round last year, and expects to seek further investment in 2023 to continue its journey to market.

“Today, nearly all newborns in the western world have an audio screening, or hearing test, and the instance of significant hearing abnormality in newborns is actually less than the instance of brain injury,” said Mowles. “So we believe the case for newborn screening is significant, and that’s our objective – to make this an accepted standard.”