In this interview, we explore the insights of Slawa Madelska, founder and CEO of HUGUP and Semiflex Dome System. Transitioning from digital agencies to med-tech entrepreneurship, Madelska brings a nuanced perspective to integrating technology in healthcare. HUGUP focuses on evidence-based back pain management solutions, while Semiflex system is an innovative surgical medical device used in the treatment of IBD patients. Madelska shares her thoughts on the healthcare industry’s evolving trends, the importance of preventive care, and the challenges of utilizing data effectively.
In your journey from digital agencies to med tech entrepreneurship, what gaps did you identify in the healthcare industry that you believe emerging AI technologies could fill?
Data is the big topic, as we now have different sources of data, including historical data in medical records, data from wearables, medical devices, and fitness trackers. We’re missing a gold standard for quality data. We’re just beginning to understand how patients can get value-based healthcare. We’re learning to draw value from these data and put them into actionable steps while ensuring reliability. With AI’s help, we can create a gold standard, consolidating data from various input points to create value.
In your current role, are you actively working on projects that integrate technology with healthcare, specifically in areas like back support or pain management?
Yes, HUGUP focuses on back support, helping people with back pain, particularly those in crisis. We use cutting-edge technology in knitwear and pair the suits with sensors to make them smart and interactive. The challenge is to determine what to do with the data gathered, how to read it, and identify the valuable pieces. This is the frontier we’re at, requiring teams of people to filter, sort, and ascribe meaning to the data. A diversified team of specialists is still essential for working with these data.
Once we have the valuable data, do you see a shift towards prevention rather than intervention in healthcare?
Yes, once we have valuable data, the focus should move towards prevention. Concepts like the digital twin, which reflects a patient’s health and allows for simulating different scenarios, can be extended. We can use historical data from healthcare systems to push towards preventive care. This shift could change the paradigm, favoring preventive care over acute care, which is overdue for a major change in healthcare. AI and working with data will be instrumental in this transformation.
You mentioned that HUGUP is focused on helping people with back pain. Can you elaborate on your current projects?
We’re currently finishing our product for pregnant women. It involves high-performance knitwear with specialized yarns. Our prototype has been tested in the lab for effectiveness against competition, and the results are very positive. We need a reimagined pregnancy that would no longer put women on bed rest. Long-term, we want to redefine comfort for all stages of life: from pregnancy to the silver years.
What’s the current state of the product, and what are your plans for the next year or two?
We have passed the lab test for effectiveness and moved to the production phase. We’re working on releasing the first 100 pieces to pregnant women at selected hospitals specializing in mother and child care. This phase is about gathering feedback from these initial users. If positive, we plan to introduce changes quickly and start sales by the end of 2024.
Do you see any recent breakthrough in deep tech that has significantly impacted your business strategy or operations?
The HUGUP project has the potential to be a deep tech. For example, the problem of back pain in pregnant women is somewhat taboo, with limited awareness and solutions. We aim to provide an impactful solution to the thus far unmet medical need of over 118 million pregnant people suffering from lumbopelvic pain each year. The mission that motivates the team is to change the consensus and perception of this problem and bring a prophylaxis tool to prevent possible spine injuries and future back pain.
Can you share a specific instance where your interdisciplinary approach led to a breakthrough in your projects?
One example is Semiflex, a negative pressure therapy device for closing fistulas, a complication of Crohn’s disease. I had to create a solution as a patient myself. With my husband, we formed a team of international experts in minimally invasive surgery and negative pressure therapy. We improved the tools used for treating deep wounds like fistulas. The device, tested on myself, led to my recovery and is already benefiting other patients in a multi-center pilot study.
How do you manage running two companies simultaneously?
I started the Semiflex project four years ago, right after my recovery. Once it was well-documented and in the clinical phase, I began HUGUP. Semiflex is now mostly managed by the doctors involved, while I oversee operations. The two companies run in parallel, but the major setup work for Semiflex is completed.
What next steps do you see with Semiflex?
For Semiflex, the next step is certification. We’re planning to start the CE certification process next year and gather data for the CE file. I’m also looking to partner with a major industry player, preferably with a product addressing similar issues, to make sure that Semiflex is widely available as soon as possible.
With your background in digital anthropology and med tech, what emerging trends do you see shaping healthcare experiences, and how do you plan to be part of this transformation?
I think the shift towards preventive care is a key trend. We need to radically change the paradigm by leveraging AI and data and making tough decisions, like progressively defunding acute care to introduce higher-level changes. In both my start-ups, we want to be a part of this movement by shaping what prevention means, and providing holistic, ambulatory solutions that empower patients and reduce burden on healthcare systems.