MedTech at swissnex 01| Positrigo works on a brain imaging device to diagnose Alzheimer’s at an early stage. This Zurich-based startup keeps an eye on the US market, with the help of swissnex Boston.
Positrigo develops a medical imaging technology for the brain. Created in 2018 as a spin-off from ETH Zurich, it aims to foster Alzheimer’s research and diagnosis. Positrigo CEO Jannis Fischer has specific interests in the American market. With the help of swissnex Boston, he recently met several prominent physicians, lawyers, and other potential partners from the US East Coast. We interviewed him.
swissnex Boston: Your imaging device relies on PET scan technology, with a focus on the brain. Do you target a specific condition?
Jannis Fischer: Our main drive is Alzheimer’s research and diagnostic. This disease is associated with the presence of proteins in the brain, called tau and amyloid-beta, which we can detect with PET scans. This is why we are developing a new, cheaper and more compact PET scan device for brain imaging. A common setup fills up a whole room and costs several million dollars. Our prototype is a chair with a scanning helmet, and we hope to commercialize it for a couple hundred thousand dollars only.
If we manage to make PET scans more accessible, we will have a better means of identifying at-risk patients, even before early onset. This will be crucial in the future when Alzheimer’s treatments are available. But our approach is equally relevant today for scientific research since Alzheimer’s studies are very costly.
“More accessible PET scans will help identifying patients at risk of Alzheimer’s.”
Is a PET scan for Alzheimer’s fundamentally different from other applications?
The principles are identical. PET scans work by binding a radioactive label to a tracing molecule, typically glucose. Cancer, for example, feeds heavily on sugars. The scanner will detect a high glucose intake on the site of the tumor in the form of gamma rays emitted by the radioactive label. For Alzheimer’s, we use a different chemical tracer that binds specifically to the proteins in the brain associated with the disease.
Your startup has been created only a year ago, yet you are already prospecting in the US. Is there something here that you cannot find in Europe?
Mainly, homogeneity and predictability. In Europe right now, the legislation regarding medical devices is changing. The US provides a more predictable framework with the FDA. Also, the US has a large and competitive market. That being said, market access used to be easier in Europe a couple of years ago, and the situation changed over time. Medtech is a complex sector. Our success depends on country-specific healthcare systems such as insurance, reimbursement, hospitals, funding, and regulations. The differences are many, even between countries thought to be quite similar, like Switzerland and nearby Germany.
“The success of MedTech depends on country-specific healthcare systems such as insurance, reimbursement, hospitals, funding, and regulations.”
You met with several doctors and lawyers in Boston and New York. How will that help you develop your activities?
Boston is a central life sciences hub for the US market. swissnex helped us identify key people and set up meetings. They suggested important events such as a Medtech conference in New York and a couple of others in Boston. During the week, I also discussed regulations in-depth with three lawyers, and given how different US laws are from Switzerland’s, I am pretty happy I did so! I also met medical doctors in major hospitals such as Mass General, Cornell and Mount Auburn. I showed them our results, we discussed potential collaboration and they informed me about the specificity of the US market. Besides that, I think it helps to have clinical trials conducted in the US if we want to sell our product here. Together with our new contacts, I feel that we can do it!