An Interview With Muhammad Sadiq, Senior Technical Officer At Active Needle

What has been the journey of Active Needle’s precision needle technology and what is its current commercialisation status?

The concept of precision needle technology was conceived to address the unmet clinical need for accurate needle placement in anaesthesia application and was set out by Prof Graeme McLeod (Consultant Anaesthetist, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School). It was then developed by Dr Muhammad Sadiq, inventor of the technology, during his PhD studies at the University of Dundee. At that time, the instrument was focused primarily on anaesthesia applications and the innovation was very well received by the collaborating clinicians.

The application focus shifted from anaesthesia to cancer biopsy post-incorporation of the company, Active Needle Technology Ltd. in 2016. The decision was taken based on the in-depth market analysis concentrating on clinical demand, adoption and profit margin indicators.

As far as current commercialisation status is concerned, 3 years after incorporation, Active Needle Technology Ltd. has now developed a market ready ultrasonic biopsy device. This product is currently going through intensive testing to meet the requirements for CE-Mark status which will enable potential market deployment in Q1 2019.

How would you describe Active Needle’s experience of being part of the EPSRC IGT Network+?

The IGT Network+ provides the opportunity to keep up to date with the work being done in the field of image guided therapies. It also enables an excellent platform for start-ups like ours to network and connect with like-minded individuals, especially potential academic and industrial collaborators and clinicians who could possibility take part in the trial studies for our ultrasonic biopsy device.

While the IGT Network+ has all the key elements, speaking from a start-up’s point of view, it would be really useful if product development companies, especially operating within the medical device sector, could be invited to become a part of the network.

If you could change one thing about the academia-industry-NHS collaborations, what would that be?

This is a question of translation in science from idea to bench to clinic. Some parts of the process are being addressed through Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), but these, for reasons primarily of funding, are limited to the latter stages of the process. Where there is little ‘joining up’ of the process is at the front end. Any promising innovation must, to be successful, be developed with the final clinical setting in mind, otherwise it is very easy for developers to produce devices or services that are not packaged or tailored correctly. This means that clinical benefits are not realised because of incompatibilities with, for example, the clinical workflow or purchasing processes. It’s vital that developers get an interface with clinicians and purchasing functions from the outset if all of the potential benefits are to be harnessed.

What do you think is a promising trend in translational healthcare engineering research?

Consolidation in the NHS trust technology adoption. A good example is the new process by which trusts in Manchester have considered reviewing new technologies and if appropriate, adopt en bloc. Whilst the NHS generally is still only taking infant steps in this regard, they are, in some places, in the right direction.

What are Active Needle’s main goals and challenges at the moment?

The main goals are to develop in-clinic credibility through use of the technology, then to expand from the capabilities this technology offers into devices that realise that potential. The main challenges are gaining market traction and the delays in the regulatory process, which are due to increased demand and reduced supply of regulatory services and changes in the regulations.

When it comes to your scientific team, what are the achievements you are most proud of?

Although we’ve encountered a number of challenges during the product development process, we, a team of 3 people, are very proud to have developed a product that is ready for testing in less than two years from the start of the project and with limited financing. Our work has been recognised by Institute of Physics by awarding us the “Commended Innovation Award” in 2017.

This award-winning technology originated at the University of Dundee. What were the most important factors that characterized this collaboration, particularly the continuation of the project in a commercial setting?

A willingness to collaborate and nurture technology has been a stand-out feature of the collaboration with University of Dundee. Offering world class thinking and facilities has been a significant factor in the success of the project team.