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Investing in the future of rehab robotics

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Rehabilitation robotics unicorn Fourier Intelligence is set to take its ongoing global expansion to the next level after securing funding from Saudi Aramco, becoming the first rehab tech company in the world to gain financial backing from a major player in the international investment market.

Fourier is now targeting global market expansion – with the United States and EU being key targets for the near future – ongoing development of its world-leading technology, and adding further to its international team through the C+ financing round, which the company’s co-founder Zen Koh described as being of “humongous” significance.

The business, a pioneer in the global rehab tech market, is already on an unrelenting path of growth, expanding into 54 countries to date from its native Singapore, including the UK, with more than 1,000 uses of its technology in 30 of them.

The adoption rate is increasing “exponentially”, says Zen, with more than 10 million usage hours for its portfolio of over 20 AI-powered rehabilitation robots so far.

And as well as its work in enabling access to rehab through the popularisation of its technology, Fourier – which has grown hugely during its six years in business – is committed to leading, supporting and participating in international scientific research in rehab robotics, to enable the delivery of technology-led solutions to solve specific clinical constraints.

So far, it has established ten subsidiaries and joint research laboratories in international destinations including Singapore, Chicago – in the world-leading Shirley Ryan AbilityLab – China, Malaysia, Melbourne, Zurich and Spain.

Now, to add to its stellar progress, Fourier’s securing of backing from Saudi Aramco – the world’s most profitable company and biggest oil producer – is indicative of both the potential of the rehab robotics market and Fourier’s huge presence within it.

“For the past three decades or so, since we started introducing technologies and robotics into clinical rehab settings, no global players have been willing to enter the field,” says Zen, deputy group CEO of Fourier Intelligence Group.

“We have witnessed many promising companies, startups and technologies retreating or moving on. But this funding round from such a major investor indicates that the rehab technology industry is now getting the long-overdue attention and support needed to make a positive difference in patients’ lives.”

One initial move in the advancement of Fourier’s work enabled by the investment is the upcoming collaboration with Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (JHAH) to create an advanced rehabilitation robotic service.

“This round of financing will further accelerate our growth and allow us to invest more into our core technology development, talent acquisition and global market expansion,” says Zen, who has worked in the advancement of rehab robotics for over 20 years.

“The two main targets for our expansion are the United States and the European Union. We do have some presence in the EU but not yet on a large scale. Initially when you develop products, you focus on places close to you before launching globally, but the time has now come for more aggressive expansion and a larger installation base.

“The United States is very exciting, it is one of the largest markets in the world. We are entering into a joint venture and are willing to invest in factories and in talent acquisition.

“Being based in Singapore, we are sandwiched between East and West, but while there are differences in those markets, we do not see the politics – we only see that patients need our technology. Our goal is to empower clinicians and serve patients in the global market and that has never changed. We want patients to get back as normal a life as possible and we want our technology to make that happen.”

In becoming the first ‘major player’ to give its financial backing to a rehab tech company, Prosperity7 Ventures says it has identified the potential of this as a largely untapped industry with huge growth potential, and is supporting Fourier with its network and resources in addition to the funding, with a focus on partnerships.

To date, Fourier – which has been infusing creativity into exoskeleton and rehabilitation robotics development since 2015 – has launched over 20 self-developed products globally, all geared towards the purpose of improving patients’ lives through better quality and access to tech and robotic-led rehabilitation.

It also aims to grow its global team, which currently has around 400 people, and will be concentrating its efforts on creating new teams in Australia, the United States and Europe.

“We are focusing a lot on research and want to add the right talent to the team. We will start in Australia first as that is closest to us, but we don’t see geography as a challenge in preparing teams, working remotely is now something we are all used to,” says Zen.

In 2020, Fourier developed and launched its pioneering intelligent robotic solution, RehabHub, which is widely used in neurorehabilitation, elderly care, and community-based rehabilitation settings.

The comprehensive rehabilitation solution is equipped with highly efficient, interconnected, and cost-effective robots that deliver functional training, assisting clinicians in providing treatments and enabling effective and consistent rehab to patients.

RehabHub is an area in which Fourier is set to see significant further growth, with Zen highlighting the potential for collaboration, supported by ongoing investment in all areas of its technology – from  its pioneering hardware, software and AI through to the telerehab system used in support of its implementation.

“We aim to build a world-leading collaborative rehabilitation ecological system, through our RehabHub concept, and to consolidate Fourier’s global leading position further to create greater value for our customers,” says Zen, who is an ambassador for IISART.

“We think we are well-positioned to collaborate with some of the leading players in the field through our RehabHub concept. Through collaboration and working together in a positive way, we can move this industry forward – but by competing in a malicious way, that will set us all back. We want to work together for the benefit of this industry so it is responsible and sustainable.

“Fourier was founded as we had seen the challenges that exist and wanted to see how we could make it better, how could we promote this industry better. We seem to be doing the right things and our strategy has been put together from 20 years in the ‘School of Hard Knocks’- we have learned the hard way through experience.

“We wanted to change mindsets – 20 years ago, you’d never have imagined using a mobile phone app to get a taxi, but Uber have totally changed the mindset. Technology supports the convenience of this and now makes it indispensable. We have the same principle in empowering clinicians to make a different to patients’ lives.

“We see collaboration as being something really promising for the future. We have already successfully licensed technologies from universities, completed technology transfer and productisation, and collaborate with more than 30 strategic alliance partners under the RehabHub concept. By working together we will make things happen.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging period for the business, it is now poised for further growth, underpinned by how widely technology has been embraced in healthcare globally, marking a huge departure from its previous approach.

”Underpinning the successful financing is our impressive growth numbers in recent years, and increased global adoptions, despite the challenging COVID-19 pandemic,” says Zen.

“This has been a challenging period for us, as it has been for a lot of companies, but the pandemic has fuelled the need to reduce reliance on manual clinical interventions, vindicating our advocation of technology integration in rehabilitation.

“Rapid iterations and the ability to deliver high performance, low cost, and efficient technological solutions are key to successful clinical adoptions.

“Fourier is well-positioned to capture the opportunity enabled by advanced rehabilitation robotics. We’re pleased to be part of this exciting global shift towards technology-focused healthcare solutions and believe Fourier’s domain-specific expertise will lead and fuel innovative solutions for the healthcare challenges we see today.”

Looking forward, and with significant global plans already in place, Fourier is now set for the next phase of its growth, supported by the backing of Saudi Aramco.

“Our partnerships with Prosperity7 Ventures and Aramco Ventures inspire and strengthen our resolve in delivering innovative healthcare solutions. Fourier will continue to invest in our core technologies to stay ahead of the competition,” adds Zen.

“We look forward to the next stage of our journey, together with our strategic partners.”

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Flu vaccinations to become compulsory for care staff?

Plans to introduce mandatory flu jabs could be “one step too far” for an already under-pressure sector, leaders warn

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The introduction of compulsory flu vaccinations for care home staff could be “one step too far” for a sector already battling a recruitment crisis amidst the ongoing impact of COVID-19, leading professionals in the industry have told NR Times. 

The Government is currently consulting with key bodies in health and social care over whether to introduce a statutory requirement for vaccination against flu as a condition of employment for frontline workers. 

This follows the move to make COVID-19 double vaccination compulsory, which some forecasters predict could see up to 30 per cent of social care workers leave their roles in a sector already struggling to meet the soaring demand for its services, with an existing and growing shortfall of at least 80,000 staff nationally.

The consultation, which concludes next week, is likely to be met with “fury and outrage” by care operators, many of whom have battled to stay afloat over the past 18 months with mounting staffing and financial challenges. 

SAGE has advised that the combination of flu and COVID-19 could make this winter more of a threat than ever before to the most vulnerable people, particularly those in specialist care environments, and that vaccination is a tool in preventing the transmission of both.

In its consultation paper, titled ‘Making vaccination a condition of deployment in the health and wider social care sector’, the Department of Health and Social care says that flu vaccine uptake among social care workers in care homes was around 33 per cent last year – including 48 per cent for those directly employed and 36 per cent for those employed through an agency – which is significantly lower than uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.

But for operators already under pressure to meet the needs of their residents while losing staff over the COVID-19 vaccination issue, the worry is that more leaving the profession over the compulsory flu jab may tip the balance. 

One senior figure in a care operator, who wished to remain anonymous, told NR Times: “This is one step too far, particularly so soon after we’ve been forced to lose good people because of the COVID vaccination. 

“Smaller operators are struggling to stay afloat. We’re doing all we can but these are very difficult times. People say we’re through the worst, and in some ways that is true, but the staffing situation is getting worse. By forcing more people out of the sector, the future is very worrying.” 

Paul TM Smith – consultant to Renal Health Ltd and a leading name in specialist care, who is also part of the Royal College of Nursing’s older people’s forum – confirmed to NR Times that the RCN was invited to be part of the consultation. 

“The recent report from MPs (Coronavirus: lessons learned to date) highlighted many failures in the Government’s handling of COVID, but also showed the success of the vaccination programme. There is absolute terror at the prospect of a fourth or fifth wave of COVID, particularly as we come into flu season,” he says. 

“So, given that, I can understand where this approach by the Government comes from – but the situation with the COVID vaccinations has been rushed through and care homes now risk being hit again. And I can’t see it being a one-off for this year, as COVID isn’t going away. 

“I think there will be fury when this becomes known, there will be outrage from many. I worry this could be one vaccination too far and I’d be hesitant to say I’m 100 per cent convinced a policy around compulsory flu vaccinations for staff would be a good thing.

“We’ve seen that clinical advice and political action can be poles apart, and the Government aren’t bound to take that advice. The implications for the sector need to be fully considered.”

While many social care workers will qualify for free flu jabs, not all will, and a lack of clarity also exists over who would have to fund compulsory vaccinations. 

“If it starts costing people to be vaccinated, people who are on low pay working in very challenging conditions, then it becomes a levy. And if this falls to operators, up to 85 per cent of whom are very small operations, this will be a very significant expense for them at a time when they can’t afford any more financial pressures,” says Paul. 

The care home operator adds: “For any care staff in our homes who didn’t qualify for a free flu vaccination, I couldn’t possibly allow them to pay; but then that’s yet another outlay for us. I would hope there may be some Government support there, and that they appreciate how under pressure we really are.”

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Long COVID symptoms ‘typically last up to six months’

Research shows more than half of people with COVID-19 will go on to experience long-term Long COVID symptoms

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More than half of the 236million people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide since December 2019 will experience Long COVID symptoms up to six months after the initial virus, new research has revealed. 

During their illnesses, many patients with COVID-19 experience symptoms such as tiredness, difficulty breathing, chest pain, sore joints and loss of taste or smell.

But its impacts, both mentally and physically, can extend into a range of further debilitating issues which can last for months – which the research team at Penn State College of Medicine saying their study findings should leave governments, healthcare organisations and public health professionals in no doubt over the scale of COVID-19 survivors who will need care for a variety of psychological and physical symptoms.

Until recently, few studies have evaluated patients’ health after recovering from the Coronavirus. To better understand the short- and long-term health effects of the virus, the researchers examined worldwide studies involving unvaccinated patients who recovered from COVID-19.

According to the findings, adults, as well as children, can experience several adverse health issues for six months or longer after recovering from COVID-19.

The researchers conducted a systematic review of 57 reports that included data from 250,351 unvaccinated adults and children who were diagnosed with COVID-19 from December 2019 through to March 2021. 

The researchers analyzed patients’ health post-COVID during three intervals at one month (short-term), two to five months (intermediate-term) and six or more months (long-term).

According to the findings, survivors experienced an array of residual health issues associated with COVID-19. Generally, these complications affected a patient’s general wellbeing, mobility or organ systems. 

Overall, one in two survivors experienced long-term COVID manifestations and the rates remained largely constant from one month through to six or more months after their initial illness.

Issues with general wellbeing, mobility, neurological impacts and mental health disorders all featured heavily in the long-term symptoms. 

“These findings confirm what many health care workers and COVID-19 survivors have been claiming, namely, that adverse health effects from COVID-19 can linger,” said co-lead investigator Vernon Chinchilli, chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences. 

“Although previous studies have examined the prevalence of Long COVID symptoms among patients, this study examined a larger population, including people in high-, middle- and low-income countries, and examined many more symptoms. Therefore, we believe our findings are quite robust given the available data.”

“The burden of poor health in COVID-19 survivors is overwhelming,” said co-lead investigator Dr. Paddy Ssentongo, assistant professor at the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering. 

“Among these are the mental health disorders. One’s battle with COVID doesn’t end with recovery from the acute infection. Vaccination is our best ally to prevent getting sick from COVID-19 and to reduce the chance of Long COVID even in the presence of a breakthrough infection.”

The mechanisms by which COVID-19 causes lingering symptoms in survivors are not fully understood. These symptoms could result from immune-system overdrive triggered by the virus, lingering infection, reinfection or an increased production of autoantibodies. 

According to the researchers, early intervention will be critical for improving the quality of life for many COVID-19 survivors. They said that in the years ahead, healthcare providers will likely see an influx of patients with psychiatric and cognitive problems, such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, who were otherwise healthy before their COVID-19 infection. 

Based on these findings, healthcare providers should plan and allocate resources accordingly in order to effectively monitor and treat these conditions, the team said. 

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A Chance for Life extends neurorehab in the North

The move will extend the range of patient services in the area and improves patient journeys

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Neurological physiotherapy provider Neurocare Physiotherapy now falls under the umbrella of complex case management and rehabilitation specialist A Chance for Life. 

The move extends the range of patient services in the North and improves patient journeys, too.

There is an inevitable challenge for any organisation delivering neuro rehab. With such a wide range of conditions to treat, it can be difficult for any organisation to build a pool of expertise large and diverse enough to service them all.

But Louise Chance, founder of A Chance for Life Ltd, the specialist in rehabilitation support work, case management, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and medico-legal reporting, has found a solution to that challenge.

Louise has combined her team’s capabilities with those of Lancashire-based Neurocare Physiotherapy. 

For almost two decades, Neurocare Physiotherapy has treated patients across the North West of England for neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, foot drop, head injury and other disorders.

For much of that time, A Chance for Life has worked in a similar space from its base in Penrith, providing support for clients who often have a variety of social, physical, mental and vocational needs.

Louise saw an opportunity to bring the two organisations together: “We saw that what we do and where we do it dovetails nicely.

“Being able to expand the range of care we offer across the North of England and Southern Scotland is so important, because it means our clients can access more of the support they need from a single source.”

Get in touch to find out more on 01768 891709.

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