Philip Alton, Senti Tech
Continuing our P4SY Accelerator Programme Founder interviews, we’ve been talking with Philip
Alton, CEO and Founder of Senti Tech.
CEO: Philip Alton
Sector: Precision Medicine
Location: Sheffield / Liverpool
Thanks for joining us Phil.
What is the Senti Smart Garment?
It’s an intelligent smart garment medical device created to help people with conditions such as asthma and COPD to have better control over their respiratory illness. It’s worn like a tabard with sensors to capture breath and heart sounds, and this information is processed using machine learning. This information gives users and health professionals essential insights – for example, if medication is having the right effect, whether conditions are under control, and the risk of ‘flare-ups’ – in order to provide tailored advice, medication and treatment for each individual to enable them to stay well at home. Our technology is also about preserving lung health in the future – each respiratory attack can make somebody more susceptible to a future attack – so the value of the Senti Smart Garment is for improved health in the present and supporting quality of life in the future.
How did the idea for the Senti Smart Garment originate?
I’m an emergency medicine doctor, which I think gives me an interesting perspective. I have seen patients in A&E day after day, particularly in winter, similar patients again and again presenting with the same clusters of symptoms. In A&E, we have to assess whether a flare-up is due to a known condition or another underlying health issue – and there is a lot of skill in that. You can’t be complacent about similar cases, and conclusions are reached based on following clinical guidelines and applying clinical judgement and educated instinct. And for those with existing conditions, we need to understand ‘what is wrong? Why isn’t somebody getting better or able to manage their condition? Why aren’t they responding to treatment the way we expect them to?’ There’s a lot of challenges in establishing risk and differentiating patients in an emergency care environment – for patients presenting with breathlessness and chest tightness we’d use a range of activities to gain that critical insight – listening for chest sounds, blood tests and xrays. Working in this environment was the starting point for Senti. But I realised a key aim of innovating should be to keep patients well at home – away from A&E. We’re not about replacing doctors or nurses with technology. I believe that when you do fall ill, that human contact is an integral part of healing. People can reassure and care for people in a way that machines simply cannot. Our focus is to create a tool to help patients themselves monitor their risk and understand their diagnosis, and know what treatments they need in order to stay well: a tool that has the ability to listen for hours and hours to each person’s breath sounds and objectively assess if their health is getting better or worse. Using our intelligent device we have the potential to detect so much more than using a stethoscope – it’s hard to know if a wheeze is getting worse over a period of time by listening at intervals, a device can provide this insight objectively, to help differentiate chest tightness and breathlessness and make decisions on an effective treatment plan.
How have you worked with potential future users of the Senti Smart Garment?
We are committed to a user-centred design approach, and we know that people with long term chronic respiratory illnesses are all shapes and sizes! So, we’ve worked with user groups to understand usability and how to make the garment size interchangeable for different users. Our vision is for a tailor-made experience -without the high cost. Early in the process we sketched different garment designs, some we liked (and some not so much!) and took them to a group of people living with COPD for their feedback. It was never our intention to pick one – we wanted to select the good and discard the bad elements from each design. Through this process, we have a final design very different from the original in response to what was important to our users.
We’ve done further building and testing of the garment over the last year – exploring how to put on and take it off, and how physical difficulties (such as breathlessness) can impact how easy this is to achieve. Convenience and ease has been our focus. And we’ve learnt so much. It’s been invaluable to see the reality of using our garment to optimise the experience for future users.
What would you say are your successes on your Senti Tech product development and
business growth journey?
I’d say our successes are a combination of highlights and achievements.
The highlights have been our user testing and working with community respiratory teams to get direct feedback from a user point of view, hear breath and heart sounds and the quality of the audio. For us, feedback and more questions from our user groups are a positive indication that
there is interest in our garment, the impact it could have, and that they want to see this being a success. Development of the Senti Smart Garment has been complex, so we are really proud of our technical achievements. We have a garment that can accurately capture quality breath and
heart sounds using precision sensors, that’s easy to put on (I’d say easier than a T-shirt!) and that gives confidence to our users that their respiratory function is being monitored. I’m personally proud of the Senti team, development has been 100% in-house and they’ve responded to every challenge that we’ve encountered. We secured seed funding in 2021 and were successful in getting a NHSX AI in Health & Care Award and an Innovate UK SMART grant. We’ve established a fantastic partnership with Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, who’ve helped us get the right people in the room for the design process.
What connections / partnerships are you seeking to make for the next stage of your
We’d like to engage with NHS community respiratory teams to validate the Senti Smart Garment in more regions – we’ve had great support in Liverpool and Essex but we need to understand the application and value in more regions nationally, in urban and more rural areas. We’re seeking to progress our clinical studies, we have a single site study starting in November
2022. We’re also looking to meet with investors, we were successful in our seed round in 2021 so we’ll be opening a £10M series A round in early 2023.
And finally, can you tell us about your experience of participating in the P4SY
Our experience has been very positive. We’ve been able to start conversations with the regional supply chain and access manufacturing expertise, through the Medical AMRC, to focus on ethical supply chain management and sourcing, and design for volume manufacture. We are committed to ethical sourcing and looking to connect with businesses to drive the national conversation about this -and share best practice. We’ve benefited from the breadth of support through P4SY (and the flexibility to participate remotely) – conversations with NHS stakeholders, universities and clinical studies teams have helped us consolidate our knowledge and build partnerships for the next-generation development of our device. We’ve enjoyed being part of P4SY!