Making it Work: Elevre develops wearable device for COPD sufferers

The device, which can be worn under a person’s clothes, provides neuromuscular stimulation to a patient’s chest wall and reduces breathlessness

Miriam Savage, co-founder of Elevre Medical: ‘Breathlessness is a symptom that people accept is just part of COPD.’ Picture: Andrew Downes, Xposure

Miriam Savage was surprised when she researched the options to help those suffering from breathlessness as a result of a heart condition. There weren’t that many and she believed those that did exist didn’t address the issue directly.

As part of her work with BioInnovate Ireland, the NUI Galway-based health technology innovation programme, Savage has spent much of the last few years exploring ways of putting her biomedical expertise to good use with a commercial option to help treat under-recognised conditions.

With chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), she found a condition that was debilitating and causing significant unaddressed problems for patients. So Savage decided to do something about it, and in 2019 she began the process of establishing Elevre Medical.

COPD is an infection that affects up to 250 million people worldwide, and around half of them struggle with their breathing as a result. It’s a debilitating issue, with potentially serious effects on a person’s lifestyle.

“Breathlessness starts a vicious cycle for patients,” Savage said. “So they become very fearful of actually becoming breathless – they’re afraid of not being able to catch the next breath. So they start to avoid a lot of their normal daily activities that might cause them to become breathless. And what you have then is a situation where patients get physically deconditioned and then become more breathless again. The condition just progresses and the situation gets worse.”

Elevre has developed a solution which it hopes can address the issue for millions around the world. Along with Dylan Creane, her co-founder, Savage built a product called ResWave, a wearable device that provides neuromuscular stimulation to a patient’s chest wall and reduces breathlessness with no disruption to the user.

The device, which looks like a vest, is lightweight, durable and can be worn under clothing. It’s designed to give COPD patients the confidence to go about their daily lives without worrying about breathlessness.

“What struck me was both how big this problem is and how neglected it is,” Savage, who holds degrees in both electronic engineering and biomedical science, said of COPD-induced breathlessness.

“Breathlessness is a symptom that people accept is just part of COPD. They assume those with the condition are going to be breathless, so there’s very little innovation in the space.”

Before Elevre, the few solutions that did exist mostly focused on shifting mucus from the airways in a bid to target shortness of breath, Savage said. “But there was nothing that targeted breathlessness directly, in terms of the sensation.”

In the two years since its inception Elevre, which has backing from Enterprise Ireland but has yet to receive regulatory approval, has focused on building out its prototype.

“A lot of what we’ve been doing is patient-centric design,” Savage said of ResWave’s development. “It’s so important that patients themselves can accept this into their lives.

“The big thing for us is that we want to be able to deliver therapy to them and help them feel less breathless while doing their daily activities.”

Elevre is hoping to get authorisation from the Food and Drug Administration and aims to roll it out commercially by 2025. Still in its infancy, the firm is hoping to raise €3 million next year and hire seven new staff.