It was 2012 and Dr Robert McLeay was chatting to his wife’s colleague at a backyard Brisbane barbecue. While enjoying his burger, McLeay listened intently to a story about a scientific innovation not yet easily available to clinicians, but which should have been. The discussion involved Bayesian dosing, which allows clinicians to dose a patient based on that patient’s individual ability to absorb, process, and clear a drug from their system.
Working on his PHD in medical research at the time, McLeay’s interest was piqued. After the pavlova was served, he couldn’t get home fast enough. He went on to develop DoseMe’s first prototype that weekend.
But DoseMe wasn’t a simple Uber-for-X concept that McLeay could test with paying customers immediately. DoseMe’s software was designed to support healthcare practitioners using the Bayesian method to dose patients, and therefore required full prototype development and proper R&D.
In 2014, with a full prototype and independent study results in hand, DoseMe secured $500,000 seed funding from Shark Tank’s Steve Baxter and launched its pilot devices.
Lured by DoseMe’s promise of increasing the survival rate for childhood leukaemia, reducing chemotherapy side effects, and improving patient cost-savings, DoseMe attracted some impressive early customers and partners, such as St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney and Maribor University Medical in Maribor, Slovenia.
In 2015, DoseMe went from the development stage to a fully commercial business, when Charles Cornish came on board as CEO to allow McLeay to focus more on the CTO role. “Then things got very busy,” McLeay laughs as he recounts the transition.
In 2016, it’s been all systems go, with DoseMe partnering with Siemens, Apatex, and Charm Health, as well as raising a recent $2.6 million Series A round from local investors, Greg Spurgin and Gary Cunningham.
“Finding Brisbane-based investors with a deep healthcare background, who have successfully taken healthcare businesses to the U.S., was a real coup for us,” says McLeay. “It’s really important to find that right mix of investors because their support is invaluable. It took about three months to find Greg and Gary through our networks, then everything happened quite quickly.”
DoseMe’s Series A investment will cover five key areas: expanding the number of drug molecules on the platform, commercialising DoseMe in Australia, expanding into the U.S. market, developing sales capability in Europe, and integrating DoseMe into existing electronic medical record providers in key markets. They hope to have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval by the end of 2016.
According to McLeay, DoseMe’s primary challenge has been the regulatory hurdles. “In 2013, Australia’s TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] issued guidance that said we were a medical device, because even though we don’t have a hardware product, our software intervenes in a patient’s course of therapy. This is good because there is a high standard of accuracy for medical devices, but there is a huge amount of work to get regulatory compliance.”
Interacting with early customers was another challenge. “Giving up our baby to put it in front of a customer for the first time… but the importance of it cannot be overstated, because without that customer feedback you cannot refine your product to where it needs to get to.”
Elaborating on their experience with customer feedback, McLeay explains that getting their product in front of customers as early as possible was the best piece of advice they received. In DoseMe’s case, while the core product remained the same, customer feedback helped them improve the product’s interface and capabilities. It also helped them learn and adapt to the purchasing needs and messaging required for different market segments.
Balancing rapid recruitment with company culture has also been difficult. “Whilst we’ve been fortunate to date, it’s still been really hard to grow a team as rapidly as we have and still maintain the right culture and bring everyone up to speed.”
Reflecting on these challenges, McLeay concludes, “It’s not the big hurdles that make or break you. It’s the little ones that you have to go through every day. It’s a constant startup slog.”
On the other hand, DoseMe has plenty to be proud of. For instance, their win for best Queensland startup at the Innovation and Investment Summit Gala Dinner in April, or their Community Services category win at the Queensland iAwards in July, or their national iAwards Pitchfest competition win in September.
But when asked about DoseMe’s greatest successes, McLeay mentions the “indescribably fantastic feeling” when DoseMe submitted a desk-full of regulatory paperwork for the first time. He also recounts a phone call he took recently from a South Australian hospital: “We just got a trial account and put through a patient that we didn’t know how to dose,” said the caller. “The patient is now on the way to recovery and we just wanted to thank your team for their support on that difficult case. It really made a difference.”
Sounding grateful, McLeay concludes, “Every customer is a win and I think that hearing about those wins from customers is what keeps startups going.”