Dr. Peter Göttel of Berlin Heals

Category: Future heads

© Peter Göttel

© Peter Göttel

© Peter Göttel

Currently, heart insufficiency can be treated but not cured. Using a completely new approach, Berlin-based company Berlin Heals is set to change this. During our conversation, Peter Göttel, founder and managing director of Berlin Heals, explains how the therapy works, why it is efficient from an economic point of view and why the Design Transfer Bonus funding programme came in handy, especially in the company's early days.

Mr Göttel, your company has developed a medical product that will turn conventional treatment methods upside down. Thanks to your new method millions of people who suffer from heart insufficiency can now hope for recovery. Instead of medication or organ transplantations your approach uses weak electric currents. Can you briefly explain the advantages of this type of treatment and why the heart can in fact be cured?

We have developed an implantable medical product. The device is very small, about the size of a cardiac pacemaker, and uses very low electrical pulses, so called micro currents, generated by two contacts to prompt the heart to beat. The small implant is placed under the skin in the area of the pectoral muscle. The system is called "C-MIC", or cardiac micro current. Its mechanism is based on the fact that certain types of cardiac insufficiency are caused by chronic-inflammatory processes in the heart muscle tissue. These chronic inflammatory processes can be effectively suppressed by electrical micro currents. Ultimately, we can prompt the tissue structure to normalise on a cellular level which leads to an improvement in cardiac output or even restoration of normal heart function. We have been able to demonstrate this in pre-clinical trials.

With the exception of heart transplantations which are being performed less and less frequently, conventional therapies provide mostly symptomatic relief, i.e. fight the effects of a disease, not its causes. Our approach, however, is much more fundamental - we focus on curing the diseased tissue.  Incidentally, the electric current is so weak that it remains below the sensitivity threshold and thus doesn't interfere with the conduction system or the heart rhythm which is why the patient remains completely unaware of it. After approx. six months the myocardial tissue will have healed completely causing the device to shut itself off.

Developing a new medical product is a monumental task for a new company. About six years ago you won the Berlin-Brandenburg business plan competition. Which milestones have you reached since?

About two years ago we re-founded our company together with private investors from Switzerland. It was only then that we began developing the actual product. Since then we have reached some important developmental milestones, which is why we have already entered the system validation stage. Soon we will be ready to carry out a clinical pilot study. Considering that medical products in the "active implant" category such as C-MIC, are subject to particularly high approval requirements, this is a very short development time. Nevertheless, our development process is certified in accordance with EN-ISO13485.

At the time, winning the Berlin-Brandenburg business plan competition in 2010 provided us with some attention and many contacts, however, at the beginning of this decade the conditions for early-stage investments were anything but promising. This is why we had to finance the four-year period between the competition and the re-founding from our own resources. We had many talks both with interested VC investors and family offices who eventually all shied away from the risk involved in early-stage investment or offered us unacceptable conditions. Also, it was remarkable how much time was lost dealing with frequent contact requests that later turned out to be unsustainable or dubious. 

According to your estimates, how many people can significantly prolong their lives in the next ten year in Germany alone?

There is huge potential and our life expectancy keeps rising. Heart diseases are among the major diseases and there will be hundreds of thousands of patients in Germany alone. However, we are realistic enough to know that C-MIC will merely be one in a range of therapy options available to doctors. Ultimately, it will not only be the superior effectiveness and tolerability of our method that will be crucial to its acceptance and success but also its capacity to reduce health costs that keep rising due to increasing patient numbers. As micro current therapy renders follow-up treatment largely unnecessary we are optimistic that our method will make sense in terms of health economics as well.

At the same time it is certainly impossible to develop a product such as yours without any external support at all. How important was the collaboration with other research institutes, hospitals and other private companies for the implementation of your project? And how do you rate the existing networks in Berlin?

That is correct. In order to implement our project we work with partners and suppliers from Berlin - for example with Technical University in the areas of materials research and testing - and from other parts of Germany, but also from the EU and the US. Professor Volkmar Falk, Director of the German Heart Centre Berlin, is a member of our scientific advisory board. We use our own contacts or publicly available information but also contacts that our employees bring to the table as part of their know-how. Institutionalised networks play a minor role in this since our issues and requirements are usually very specific.

Your project was supported by the Design Transfer Bonus funding programme. Can you give us an insight into this project and explain briefly why design is particularly relevant to your medical product?

Naturally, a medical product, too, has to be designed in a way that makes it functional and appealing at the same time. After all, design and colour features are an important aspect of how the product will be perceived externally, particularly because the design of a product is the first thing that the public will notice about it. However, with a safety-critical product such as an implant the external design will always be guided by safety requirements, i.e. safety will always trump design.

The Design Transfer Bonus programme has a comparatively low funding volume - in our case the funds amounted to about 14,000 EUR - but in the company's early days it proved to be a very useful and welcome element in financing our first steps. What's more, with six to eight weeks the application process is comparatively simple and processing times are pleasantly short.  Incidentally, the contact with the designer of Smoge-Berlin who was commissioned at the time lasts to this day and has also led to follow-up orders.

What exactly were you trying to achieve with the project then?

At the time, we were developing an animated 3D visualisation of our implant in the body that we now use as a type of hologram at trade fairs and the like in order to explain our product.

Mr. Göttel, could you please complete the following sentence: Berlin is...

... a cosmopolitan and tolerant city inhabited by many bright minds. Also, the region is my second home. We couldn't imagine founding a company somewhere other than Berlin!