Ireland-UK, EIT Health Ireland-UK

‘Conversations with our Network’ series – Súil Pharma

14th November 2022

Today is World Diabetes Day. More than 32 million people in the EU live with diabetes. Europe has one of the largest numbers of children and adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes in the world (approx. 55%) and the highest number of new cases in this group every year (estimated at 52%).

Health innovators across Europe are working to tackle this widespread chronic disease. We had the opportunity to meet with Cormac Flynn, Founder and CEO at Súil Pharma this month. Based in Galway, Ireland, Súil Pharma is a spin-out of the University of Galway’s BioInnovate Fellowship, a member of EIT Health’s network.

‘Súil’ is the Irish word for ‘eye’ and Súil Pharma’s mission is to restore vision, independence and quality of life to people suffering vision loss due to diabetes. The team has made it to the European semi-finals of this year’s EIT Health Catapult pitching competition. Meet CEO Cormac Flynn:

What did you do before you became an entrepreneur

I trained as a mechanical engineer, and during my degree I completed a project on social engineering where we helped solve challenges facing people in need. I realised I had a huge passion for patient impact, so when I graduated I went straight into medical device design with the ambition of delivering new solutions to improve lives. Having spent 15 years working in industry, I worked alongside amazing doctors and heard countless patient stories. It’s a great motivation to stay focused on why I do what I do. 

How did the idea for Súil Pharma come about?

During BioInnovate, I heard first-hand accounts of the significant impact vision loss can have on patients’ lives, as well as their families. I heard how they would do anything to get their vision back but haven’t yet found solutions. We created Suil Pharma for these people. To bring vision-saving therapies to the patient. 

We prioritised an area that has the greatest unmet need – new therapies to treat diabetic macular oedema. This is vision loss caused by diabetes. One in 50 of the people living with diabetes will suffer this vision loss.

What with the high incidence rates of children and adolescents with diabetes in Europe, what can be done to prevent them suffering vision loss?

Diabetic macular oedema affects type 1 and type 2 patients, but typically type 1 patients develop the symptoms at an earlier age as they have the disease younger. The best way to prevent this is remaining vigilant with your HbA1c or your blood glucose.

Early detection is vital to ensure better outcomes for patients. The best advice I could give is to never miss your annual retinal screening check-up.

There are treatment options available, such as anti-VEGF injections and these can have meaningful impact and prevent blindness, but at Súil Pharma, we are developing new therapies for patients that don’t respond to the existing options. 

How will Súil Pharma achieve this, and more importantly, when?

We spent a lot of time studying the disease and the cause of vision loss to understand why some patients do not respond as well as others. By listening to the patient and the doctor, we got a much clearer understanding of how a patient-focused therapy could work.

During intensive brainstorming sessions we ideated clinical solutions that have a clear market fit. This involved stepping away from treating the disease, and instead targeting the cause of blindness. We pitched our idea to ophthalmologists and they confirmed our approach would be effective at restoring the vision.

The next step is undergoing a thorough safety assessment and clinical trials. This can take several years so the earliest we can bring our new therapy to the market is 2030. 

Why did you apply to Catapult?

We applied for EIT Health’s Catapult competition as it was recommended by other start-ups we are connected with in Galway. There is a great network of founders here, so when one start-up discovers effective programs that positively impact their journey, they are quick to share their experience. For us, we recognise the value of the training, network, and exposure Catapult provides. This will help us with our first seed and Series A raises much faster.

Tell us about your experience on Catapult so far.

Súil Pharma has finished in the top two of the Biotech category for the Ireland-UK region and we are through to the semi-finals to compete against top start-ups from across Europe. I have met other European semi-finalists, and learned a lot from these founders on how best to demonstrate effect and commercial planning. Catapult also provided useful training sessions that improved our understanding of stakeholders and how we communicate with them. I have already begun using these skills, benefitting from the impact improved communication can create. 

What has been the biggest lesson learned so far on your founders journey?.

How passion and purpose are the keys to success. There are so many hurdles to take a start-up forward, life has so many distractions. Passion and purpose are key to maintaining focus and progressing the journey. The journey should never be a solo one. Successful entrepreneurs need to surround themselves with people that share their passion and beliefs, and that’s what I have in my family and team at Súil Pharma.

Learn more about how Súil Pharma is helping patients with diabetes prevent vision loss.

Applications for Catapult 2023 / 2024 will open in January. To be the first to find out how to apply, sign up to our newsletter.

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