Entrepreneurs, Profiles

Meet the Aussie entrepreneur letting you diagnose the flu through your smartphone

Dominic Powell /

Ellume

Doctor Sean Parsons, founder of Ellume. Source: Supplied.

Imagine being able to accurately diagnose common illnesses such as the flu, submit that diagnosis to a medical professional, and receive advice and a prescription for treatment, all without ever having to leave your bed.

Thanks to Australian healthtech startup Ellume, that’s now a reality, as the startup has developed connected diagnostics devices for sick patients which allows them to effectively self-diagnose through their smartphones.

Ellume was founded by Doctor Sean Parsons in 2010 after the swine flu outbreak. A first-time business owner, Parsons tells SmartCompany he was working in Queensland hospitals when he realised there was a market for self-diagnosis tech.

“While I was working in the emergency departments I could see the inefficient way the medical community was managing the surge of influenza which was happening thanks to the pandemic,” Parsons says.

“I began to think, if you could make a self-test for the flu, there’d definitely be a market for it.”

Parsons officially launched the business in 2010 but didn’t start working full time on Ellume until two years later. He said he’s kept a low profile until now, working on “grinding out the tech” to launch Ellume’s products.

Those products consist of a consumer-facing flu-test device, which Ellume has developed through a partnership with $55 billion multinational pharmaceutical company GsK, along with a device for diagnosing tuberculosis, developed through a partnership with German pharma company QIAGEN.

Both products rely on Ellume’s proprietary detection chip, which uses quantum dot fluorescent nanoparticles to detect various diseases from numerous different sample types, such as urine, skin and blood. Parsons says the flu detection device uses a nostril swab to detect a specific protein present in the flu virus.

IPO on the way

These huge multinational partnerships mean Parsons doesn’t view Ellume as much of a startup anymore, he says, preferring to label the fast-growing business as a “scale-up”, one which has plans for an IPO within the next 12 months.

“We’re tuning our pre-IPO processes at the moment and getting the company ready to float on the ASX within the next 12 months,” he says.

“We’re well-funded through a group of high-net-worth investors, and we have 50 staff and our own manufacturing facility with two big deals under our belt. It’s a long way away from the early days of a couple of guys in an office, though I look back on those days fondly.”

Despite the ASX listing and the Queensland headquarters, Parsons says Ellume’s target market is actually in the US, as he acknowledges Australia’s free healthcare makes patients less likely to diagnose at home rather than popping down to their local GP.

An example of Ellume’s professional use product.

“In the US, the healthcare environment is much different, there’s a greater awareness of the flu, more flu testing and it’s a paid model,” he says.

“In countries like Australia where there’s a nationalised healthcare service, people are accustomed to getting healthcare for free, and there’s not a lot of awareness of how much healthcare costs.”

And while the concept of diagnosing yourself for an illness might seem alien for some, Parsons likens the technology to pregnancy tests, noting that 30 years ago many women would have been confirmed pregnant by their doctor.

“Now they just use a pregnancy test kit in the privacy of their own home,” he says.

With a US focus, a listing on the NASDAQ was something Parsons was considering but says he thinks Australia is the right place for the company at this stage, with the investors having a “decent appetite” for healthtech stocks.

“We also have a lot of validation in the deal we’ve done with GSK. That’s better due diligence than any investor could do on their own,” he says.

Looking to the future of the emerging healthtech space, Parsons says after working in nearly every medical environment, from GPs to big hospitals, he can see consumerisation and digitisation as two main areas medicine will need to advance in.

“Consumers want access to their data, and they want to access it digitally. On the whole, I think that’s a good thing and that our healthcare systems are better off for digital services, but there will be a lot of teething problems along the way.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the former features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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