Hugh Lloyd-Jukes always wanted to start and grow a business. But after graduating from Cambridge in Law he lacked the one thing every entrepreneur needs – a good idea. So he became a strategy consultant, helped publish a book about what makes CEOs tick and later co-founded his own business advisory firm, Xinfu.
The company had some early success, ‘But it wasn’t as scalable as I hoped, and I decided I wanted to work in a business where we had deep IP, ideally in healthcare. So I sold out of [Xinfu] and went looking for IP-based businesses.’
He would have been spoiled for choice. There’s a lot of exciting innovation happening in Britain’s healthcare technology and pharmaceutical sectors – from the likes of Babylon Health, which wants to replace your local GP with algorithms and Skype calls, to Celixir’s heart-healing stem cell treatments. Through a meeting with the IP Group, a VC firm that invests in university spin-outs, he was introduced to Oxehealth, a start-up that’s doing something similarly intriguing – and where he is now CEO.
Started by Professor Lionel Tarassenko, head of Oxford University’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering, the company has developed software that can turn bog-standard video cameras into health monitors, capable of detecting a person’s heart- and breathing rates from metres away. The idea is that rather than having to regularly hook patients up to machines to check their vital signs, hospitals can monitor them less intrusively and around the clock.
The technology is based on the tongue-twisting concept of photoplethysmography – measuring tiny changes in the colour of your body, which briefly turns slightly redder each time your heart beats. Its function is similar to that of the ‘pulse oximeter’ clips you might have been given to put on the end of your finger when visiting the hospital.
Measuring breathing rates is a little more complicated. The software has to track the movement of the patient’s chest and other parts as they breathe in and out and convert that into a breathing rate through what’s known as ‘signal processing’.
As with many a hot start-up nowadays, part of Oxehealth’s research focuses on machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence. ‘We use a number of techniques to drive the computer vision and particularly the signal processing,’ says Lloyd-Jukes. ‘Some of those are heuristic techniques – where we apply known techniques to do the work. And some of them are machine learning derived. As we increase the data that we have we can do more in different fields using different learning techniques.’
Lloyd-Jukes says the business is at the end of the first of three stages of bringing the product to market. ‘The first phase is commercial research, where you’ve taken the IP and people from the university, you’ve built a team around them and you’re robusting the algorithms by doing more studies.’ It has completed successful tests with John Radcliffe Hospital, where it was used to monitor newborn babies, and Broadmoor Mental Health Hospital.
‘The second phase for me is about pilot sales. We’re selling projects where we provide a service entirely delivered and managed by us. We provide the software, hardware and monitoring of the performance of that equipment for a fee.’ In the long-term the company plans to reach greater scale by licensing the software to other providers.
Oxehealth presently has a team of 17, split between research and engineering roles. ‘We’re just scaling up the commercial team now because of the stage we’ve reached,’ says Lloyd-Jukes. And it has a weighty advisory board that includes Rolls-Royce boss Warren East and the NHS’s former research chief, Professor Sir Malcolm Green.
At the moment the technology is going through the process of being certified as a medical device. Before it is, it’s not allowed to be sold as a heart and breathing monitor. So for now Oxehealth is selling a more basic version of its product called Oxecam Video Analytics, which can be used to detect the presence of a human and their location in a room.
That’s useful for police forces to use in custody suites, as well as hospitals and care homes. Does Lloyd-Jukes plan to expand the applications of the technology - perhaps to make security CCTV cameras better at detecting intruders?
‘At the heart of this business is helping carers and clinicians look after poorly or vulnerable people in rooms,’ he says. ‘That can be applied very widely – to mental healthcare, prisons, acute care including hospitals and elsewhere. And ultimately the assisted living and home care markets. I think those are huge markets, there’s a lot to go at and that’s what we’ll focus on.’