June 04, 2015      

Disruptor with a big price $ difference

SEOUL: Not only are robots for rehabilitation new, but the use of new technologies such as 3D printing could also make them cheaper.


For example, Tyromotion GmBH in Graz, Austria, disrupted conventional hand therapy with its robot Armadeo, which costs $100,000. Healthcare robots, as we’ve learned over the past few years, are great when replacing the limitations of human-based therapy, as well as in saving tens of thousands of dollars in long-term, outpatient care.

Seoul-based Neofect disrupted the Armadeo with its robot for hand therapy. The Rapael hand costs $16,000, as sold to hospitals. Big difference!

Can Rapael make the impossible possible for millions of people?

The science of neuroplasticity using robotic therapies for stroke victims has demonstrated remarkable success since 2012, when some of the first clinical studies on such robot therapies began to build up a body of conclusive clinical trials, such as those from the journal Stroke Research and Treatment.

“Traditionally hand rehabilitation has been done by having patients practice movements like buttoning a shirt,” said Lauri Bishop, a research physical therapist in the Department of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine at NYPH/CUMC. “The robot makes this process more efficient. It also makes it easier to track a patient’s progress.”

A given is that robotics for hand therapies works, but most of these robot tools are expensive, putting them way out of reach for millions of stroke victims worldwide.

3d print advert

3D printing is hurrying into healthcare robotics with dramatic effect. In some cases bashing down the doors of high-end rehabilitation care. We have already witnessed 3D-printed hand prostheses for thousands of dollars less from ultra-new companies like Open Bionics ($1,200), offering a low-cost alternative for the estimated 11.4 million hand amputees worldwide.

Now comes Neofect, another new company (2011) that is targeting its hand rehabilitation system to the same tens of thousands of stroke victims worldwide as does Tyromotion.

Rapael, is a “smart glove” that resembles an exoskeleton for a person’s hand.

In the U.S. alone annual stroke costs top $60 billion, where a typical patient faces nearly $95,000 in inpatient and outpatient therapy.

Disabled World reports that 17 million people had a stroke in 2010, and 33 million people have previously had a stroke and were still alive.

“Between 1990 and 2010 the number of strokes decreased by approximately 10% in the developed world and increased by 10% in the developing world,” it said.

Dramatic cost relief, while bringing robot efficiency to stroke rehabilitation, could well be a killer app for Neofect.

If efficacy is equal, price is king

Tech In Asia reports that Samsung veteran turned startup founder HoYoung Ban is behind Neofect. Mission: trying to change the way people recover from strokes.

According to Neofect, the Rapael Smart Glove “is a biofeedback system that includes an exo-glove with built-in sensors and artificial intelligence software to help patients with neurological and musculoskeletal injuries regain their hand mobility.”

“Embedded in the device sensors transmit data wirelessly via Bluetooth technology, and the Rapael software creates game-based training tasks,” the company says. “The immersive games simulate actions conducted in daily life, and therapists can design specific rehab programs by combining various games.”

“The learning schedule algorithm automatically adjusts the difficulty level based on the patient’s range of motion and goals,” explains Neofect. “This ensures the patient continues to stay challenged [while] at the same time creating a positive, encouraging environment. The system monitors the performance data and generates progress reports.”

Rapael has already gotten a clean bill of health from both Korean and American FDAs. It has taken in $5.5 million in outside funding and will look to raise another round in mid-2016.
In its application for a 2015 Asian Entrepreneurship Award, Neofect says of its mission:

“Neofect is developing the Rapael Smart Glove Platform based on our desire to revolutionize the current rehabilitation treatment paradigm through digital solutions for rehabilitation.”

“Neofect launched the first commercial product, RAPAEL Smart Glove, in December 2014. Major hospitals in Korea adopted RAPAEL.”

“Smart Glove as a new way of rehabilitation therapy. RAPAEL Smart Glove was approved by Korea FDA and the U.S. FDA. Neofect established the U.S. office to enter the U.S. market, which is the biggest market in healthcare industry.”

“In addition, Neofect formed clinical research partnership with major hospitals, universities, and research centers in Korea and U.S.”

Sponsors and Collaborators

The principal investigator is Dr. Yong-Il Shin at Pusan National University, Yangsan Hospital, and Neofect.

Collaborators include the Pusan National University School of Medicine, Samsung Medical Center, and the Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine

“We believe that we can solve this problem through digital innovation by providing affordable service to people marginalized by the current system,” says Ban. “Our solution can give hope of the normal and happy life of patients.”

Ban projects $1 billion in revenue by 2019 if he captures just 7% of the combined U.S., German, and Korean markets.