Megan Leslie and Julian Mulia built Calgary-based NanoTess as a social enterprise.
The vision was to create affordable medical technology anyone could access that could save a person’s life. Their recently Health-Canada-approved NanoSALV, geared towards managing chronic wounds – often diabetic foot ulcers – does just that.
That drive stemmed from their experience caring for Mulia’s parents in Mexico City. He lost both parents to chronic health conditions in 2019.
“We went through the struggles of having to help them and pay for their care and having to make those really tough decisions of if it’s really going to help them, but we need to also sell the house,” Mulia, NanoTess’s Chief Operating Officer, said.
“I’m an immigrant to Canada, so I really appreciate what it is to have a healthcare system that it doesn’t make you bankrupt every time that they get a chance.”
Leslie, the company’s CEO, referred to patients as being “a wallet to the system,” in other countries.
Both Leslie and Mulia have a background in innovation. They’ve developed innovation strategies and ecosystems for S&P 500 companies. During those adventures, they’d connected with Dr. Tessy Lopez, a technology inventor with more than 35 years of catalytic nanomedicine research.
They used Dr. Lopez’s technology to help with Mulia’s parents during the late stages of their illness. The bond had been formed, however, and they said Dr. Lopez had been impressed with their ability to help in the lab setting and commercialize the technology.
That’s how NanoTess was formed.
Material science company
Mulia said that while their current NanoSALV product treats chronic wounds, they aren’t a wound company.
“We’re a material science company,” Mulia said.
They have a series of nanomaterials. These are microscopic particles that exist in nature and can be created from different products. When they’re engineered, they can take on unique properties that have had a big impact in the field of engineering and medicine.
When Dr. Lopez’s sister had developed an ulcer, they were able to use their technology to heal it, Mulia said. That’s where they saw a real need for help. That led them into the realm of diabetes care.
“In Mexico, due to the high rates of diabetes, it became a very fast tool, a very beneficial tool for physicians who were battling these chronic wounds at the worst state,” Mulia said.
“That’s where we differentiated the most.”
Leslie said the chronic wounds happen for three primary reasons: Lack of mobility, circulation and sensation. The latter is something patients with diabetes deal with – it’s called diabetic neuropathy. They lose the sensation in their lower extremities.
“You could think about it, even if you had a little rock in your shoe for five kilometers the damage that little rock could do to your foot if you didn’t feel it,” she said.
According to the site diabeticfootonline.com, every 1.2 seconds someone develops a diabetic foot ulcer. Every 20 seconds there’s an amputation. The cost of diabetic foot ulcers is reported to cost more to treat than the top five most costly forms of cancer.
Regulatory approval a ‘great milestone’: Mulia
Leslie said from a regulatory perspective, they use the word manage – because they’re not treating diabetes. They’re managing a chronic wound state that can develop as a result of diabetes.
“When you intervene early, then you’re helping the body handle the wound before it becomes an amputation,” she said.
Getting that regulatory approval from Health Canada just eight weeks ago was a big deal, Mulia said.
“It’s a great milestone. It’s not heard of for the size of company that we are to have regulatory approvals in two years,” Mulia said.
“We’re moving at the speed of light in the medical device world.”
This is just the beginning for them. Mulia, going back to being a material science company, said they envision multiple applications for their current nanomaterial. They have more than one nanomaterial, he said.
“There’s other ones that are coming that are very exciting,” he said.
“The way that we envision is how can we support and collaborate with other companies that have expertise in a specific problem and bring them the next generation of tools to help their patients.”
They also want to be part of the journey with those families directly impacted by chronic wounds. Both Leslie and Mulia want to raise awareness of what they refer to as the ‘silent pandemic’: Chronic wounds.
“That’s why we’re a social enterprise,” Mulia said.
“That’s why we treat everyone as part of the NanoTess family because I think that’s how everyone should be treated when going into those harsh health problems.”