HBOX – From engineers to entrepreneurs
Three engineers turn their passion into business to develop a product that helps patients breathe
Dr. Matthias Menne, Dr. Peter Schlanstein and Niklas Steuer first met at the Department of Cardiovascular Engineering, located at the RWTH Institute of Applied Medical Engineering. As part of their research on hyperoxygenation therapies, the team developed a miniaturized device that supplies the blood with oxygen and eliminates carbon dioxide, which is essential for patients who are suffering from Acute Lung Failure caused by COPD, COVID, Pneumonia or the like. The so called HBOX works like a mobile pressure chamber significantly increasing the oxygen content in the patient's blood, but extracorporeally, which means outside the body – like a dialysis for the lungs.
Originally, the scientists had developed the HBOX to treat carbon monoxide poisoning on site. This idea was born when a paramedic told Peter Schlanstein about a patient with carbon monoxide poisoning who could not be helped due to the lack of a pressure chamber. Peter, who had written his PhD on medical gas exchangers, had the idea to build the HBOX using this technology. However, the team quickly realized the high demand for miniaturized lung support in hospitals. So far, patients suffering from Acute Lung Failure are put into an artificial coma to then undergo an invasive ventilation treatment. This kind of treatment is expensive, and often leads to further lung damage and other complications. The HBOX oxygenates the blood directly and allows for gas exchange independent of the lungs. This way, patients can stay awake, while lung damage and treatment costs are potentially reduced.
This innovative technology turned out to be revolutionary. Their recent successes speak for themselves: the team received the EXIST Transfer of Research in 2020 and also won the RWTH Innovation Award 2020. After participating in the RWTH Incubation Program, the researchers spun-off their technology in 2021, when HBOX Therapies GmbH was founded and was awarded with the RWTH Spin-off Award the following year. Also in 2022, the team was selected by RWTH Aachen University to represent the university at Stage Two, the largest pan-European university start-up competition, where they made it to the finals and received the HTGF Deep Tech Award of 600K euros. Here you can find the pitch they convinced the jury with: https://youtu.be/vHtxG2Uy7XA?t=27321 (7:35:21)
Recently, the RWTH spin-off signed an exclusive license agreement with RWTH Aachen University to commercialize their technology. The team aims to find further investment opportunities in order for their product to become a certified medical device and helping to shape the future of medical care. There is still quite a way to go, since the regulations for the certification as a medical device are very high and the process takes time.
There is still a long journey ahead, but we are driven by the fact that we are doing something meaningful” states Niklas Steuer, “the reward is especially meaningful for us because this product can really help people one day!
In the future, there will potentially be additional fields of application for the HBOX, such as the treatment of cancer or carbon monoxide poisoning with hyperbaric oxygen. The innovative technology, that emerged from the university is finding the way into application and has the potential to revolutionize the medical field not only helping patients breathe but to save lives. The team's dedication to their cause and determination to succeed is an inspiration to all aspiring entrepreneurs.
Read the interviev about the researchers' way from academia to industry here.