Sana Health’s Richard Hanbury chats about medtech investors, the opioid crisis and the importance of data.
Speaking with Richard Hanbury, you get a sense that he knows exactly why and how his approach to pain management is getting noticed. Hanbury is the force behind Sana, and his life’s story is the foundation on which Sana Health was built.
Sana is a smart pain relief mask. It provides an algorithm of light and sound that puts users in a deep state of relaxation. It is a natural, noninvasive, and non-habit forming pain management device.
Against the backdrop of the opioid crisis it is easy to see why such a product would be so alluring and why the product has gained wide support in 2018, including Under Armour’s Innovation award, Bayer’s Self-Care winner, Mount Sinai’s Rehab Competition winner, and first prize recipient of the Medtech Innovator competition.
Medical Design & Outsourcing asked Hanbury about Sana and its technology, what he would do differently, and the future of Sana Health.
MDO: The creation of Sana Health is your personal story. Can you tell us about it?
So I’m 19 years old, traveling in Yemen, close to the capital, Sana, which is also where the name of the company comes from. I was given the choice of a head-on collision with a petrol truck or go off a bridge. In that split-second, I chose to go off a bridge. It resulted in spinal injuries and nerve damage pain that was so severe I was given a five-year life expectancy.
Essentially the problem is that once a person is over a certain level of chronic pain, it destroys slow wave sleep. People with such injuries spend day and night in fight or flight, which means they are getting very little recovery sleep. And that’s what causes the life expectancy drop. Very quickly I built up an opioid resistance, so it wasn’t providing any pain-killing effects. And I was left with the choice of carrying on popping pills or inventing Sana.
MDO: Sana’s technology is an algorithm of light and sound delivered by a mask and headphones. What’s the science behind that?
The part of it that’s very well understood and researched is called frequency following response. It is based on visual- and audio-evoked response. When a frequency is presented to your brain, your brain adopts that frequency. It is often used through magnets or electronics, for deep brain stimulation devices. But deep brain stimulation does not work well in a home setting.
We think – and we still are working on how to prove this concept – but the data we have seems to show that the stimulation restores hemispheric balance of electrical activity between the two sides of your brain. This seems to be important to allow someone to deeply relax.
MDO: How much did the growing awareness of the opioid crisis help you get stakeholders to be interested in alternatives like your technology?
If you look back two or three years, at a typical adoption curve for a product like ours, there are always some physicians who are looking for alternatives. But the basic answer is yes – it’s changed the environment. Whereas before we would have been only able to access the most forward-thinking doctors, now we have an environment that is pushing the pace of innovation.
MDO: How do you see the future of Sana? What types of research are you doing next?
We are going to be a tool in the toolbox. I envision people using Sana in combination with other pain management tools. A user might choose to use the Sana, depending on the time of the day, depending on the reason, depending what they need to do, which is most appropriate for them. The first priority will always be to give pain sufferers more freedom of choice and control over their own pain management.
As far as our future priorities, we are first going after treatment for spinal cord injuries. We also have several people who have asked us to look into other types of nerve pain, migraine pain, and other chronic pain sources, but we need to focus on one pain type at a time. There is so much snake oil out there, we need to be sure our science is impeccable.
MDO: What advice would you give a company in the same position you were in a few years ago?
A few things. First, don’t mix consumer-facing investors and medtech investors under any circumstance. They are very separate. And if you are seeking to develop a medical technology, start with medtech. I’ve seen a lot of companies who started on the consumer side and then tried to get into medtech and extremely few have succeeded. Start with the technology and then go to consumer.
The second bit of advice would be [to] go wherever you need to go to get data above all else. That was one mistake I made. I spent three years in San Francisco and the bay area, and I really had to push to get any help on the clinical side from the major universities. I went to Texas Medical Center Accelerator – TMCx, and in the first three weeks of being there, I was asked to be part of six major trials. All startups need money, but you can’t really get the money until you’ve got the data to support your claims.