As a person with cystic fibrosis, Tomás Thompson was acutely aware of the challenges of tube feeding and how much they affected patients’ quality of life.

“Over the past 40 years, lots of medical devices have changed hugely,” explains Thompson, founder, and CEO of Rockfield Medical Devices. “Some have gone from the size of toasters to the size of mobile phones, but with enteral (tube) feeding, there was very little innovation, although it is literally key to survival for people.

“It was the same unwieldy system whether you were stuck in bed all day or wanted to go for a walk. If you wanted to go out, you would have to bring it in a rucksack, and it wasn’t discreet. You’d be sitting there with it beeping away.”

Convinced there was a better way, he used EU Horizon 2020 funding to develop Mobility+, an innovative new system that is now FDA cleared. It’s the first pump of its type to secure this approval.

A lightweight, discreet, quiet pump that can be worn under clothing and used while the person goes about their daily life, it’s set to disrupt the global market for tube feeding and transform life for hundreds of thousands of tube feeders.

Understanding the business opportunity

Thompson began his quest for a better system by researching the market. He quickly learned that 500,000 people are tube-fed daily across Europe, with a similar number in the US and 200,000 new tube placements each year in the US. Tube feeding is used in treating about 300 conditions, many of which are serious underlying conditions, such as cancer.

He also discovered that while the market was dominated by four to five multinationals, those companies focused their research and development efforts on the nutritional formulas for food delivered by tube feeding, rather than the delivery systems.

When his new system was at concept stage, he applied to the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme and was accepted. Through that programme, Rockfield Medical Devices became investor-ready and raised seed funding. From there he was able to apply for and secure Horizon 2020 funding of €1.6m through the European Innovation Council.Perseverance crucial to securing funding

Rockfield Medical Devices applied more than once for EIC funding, falling only slightly short a number of times before finally being successful in February 2020.

“Persistence is key,” says Tomás, “as is getting some outside expertise to help with the writing. These applications come with a scoring sheet, so you need to be able to tick the boxes in each section. Only 30 or 40 applications in 1,000 are successful and very few applicants get it on their first attempt.”

During the project, the funding enabled Tomás and his team to carry out human factor trials at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in the US.

As the funded period drew to a close, Rockfield Medical Devices had met all the project milestones except FDA clearance. It received this, however, three days before the project was due to finish while the final independent review was in progress.

Investment in addition to grant funding

Not only did Rockfield Medical Devices get Horizon 2020 funding, but it was also asked to join a European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot project for blended finance, which resulted in the European Commission investing €1m in the company.

“We’re looking forward to our future relationship with them as a shareholder and equity partner,” said Tomás. “The European Commission is also supporting us in terms of mentoring andconnecting us to its network of contacts.”

Rockfield is now drawing down this funding as part of a €6m Series A funding round. This will fund its commercialisation journey in the US and its European regulatory journey to secure the CE mark.

While tube feeding is often used in the short term to treat some conditions and is also used in palliative care, the specific focus for Rockfield Medical Devices is on long-term home care users. Using Mobility+ will help adults and children in this bracket to enjoy a much better quality of life.

Enterprise Ireland supporting growth

Having started on the New Frontiers programme in 2014, Tomás got further extensive support from Enterprise Ireland, including funding from the Competitive Start Fund, HPSU equity seed investment and, in 2020, funding from the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund.

The Horizon 2020 team in Enterprise Ireland also supported Rockfield Medical Devices in the development of the proposal and preparation for interview throughout the initial application and resubmission processes.

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