Uppsala’s innovation support system works!
Award-winning Kontigo Care is the latest proof.
Alcohol abuse is one of our major social problems. Its high costs and the enormous suffering it causes for victims and their relatives led Daniel Benitez to start Kontigo Care in 2013. Now his company has been rewarded with the prestigious 2018 eHealth Award. “Kontigo Care’s work on digital biomarkers is one of the most exciting developments I’ve witnessed during my career,” writes Magnus Engevik, who works with business development at Uppsala BIO.
At Uppsala BIO, we’re always keen to draw attention to phenomena and events in our immediate vicinity that deserve an extra mention. I want to highlight Kontigo Care and their amazing journey to the highly successful launch of their eHealth platform Previct.
Digital biomarker for treatment
Alcohol abuse is one of society’s major problems today. Its cost in Sweden is close to SEK 100 billion and the disease causes major suffering for affected individuals and, not least, their families. This fact, plus his own reflections about the treatment of addiction, led Daniel Benitez to start Kontigo Care in 2013.
In just a very short time, Kontigo launched the medical device ‘Triple A’ and conducted clinical trials on its use. This resulted in a pioneering publication in a reputable journal on using the digital biomarker in treating the harmful abuse of alcohol.
A health economics study was able to demonstrate an average improvement of all the lifestyle factors measured. In addition, the report ‘The value of a sober day’ calculated that one sober day in the project had cost SEK 143 per day. This figure can be compared to the costs for a non-sober day that today usually amount to thousands of crowns per day.
Participated in Uppsala Innovation Centre’s incubator program
During their journey to success, several of Kontigo Care’s staff participated in Uppsala Innovation Centre’s (UIC) incubator program. The current chairman of the Kontigo Care board, Michael Camitz, was the company’s business coach during the so-called ‘accelerator phase’.
“We have also enjoyed great support from Innovation Akademiska,” says Markku Hämäläinen, Chief Scientific Officer at Kontigo Care. “The clinical evaluation and usability tests conducted with their help meant that we reached the market two to three years earlier than we would otherwise have done.”
Based on artificial intelligence
Today Kontigo Care has further developed its Previct platform concept to include ‘Previct Alcohol’, a digitally-based medical device for enhanced treatment of harmful alcohol abuse. The system, based on artificial intelligence (AI), is used for the early identification of relapse and both complements and supports treatment, regardless of the actual method employed.
Recurrence of alcohol abuse is one of the major challenges that addiction therapy needs to deal with. Kontigo Care’s platform enables prediction, which allows relapse to be identified early and, in some cases, avoided completely.
Digital biomarkers are changing addiction treatment
In April of this year, Kontigo Care was awarded the prestigious 2018 eHealth Award, which is based on the government’s and SKL’s (the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions) vision that Sweden will be a world leader in e-health 2025.
“The response we received in connection with the award ceremony was indeed heart-warming,” says Maria Winkvist, Product Manager at Kontigo Care, when I meet her. “Hearing the consensus about the possibilities of using digital technology in an area where not much has actually happened in the last hundred years is a really good feeling.”
“Biomarkers changed the entire cancer care field and now digital biomarkers are doing the same for how addiction is treated, she adds.”
Attracting the attention of political decision-makers
“Kontigo Care has been successfully developed under the wings of UIC since it joined the business incubator’s accelerator program in 2014,” says Board Chairman Michael Camitz, who was the company’s business coach during this so-called accelerator phase. “Obviously, I’m very proud of the eHealth Award.”
“This recognition is important for spreading knowledge of Kontigo Care’s disruptive solutions for developing the treatment of alcohol addiction,” he continues. “Our solutions must win the attention of policy-makers at all levels!”
Focus on changing dependency care
For care receivers, having the freedom to themselves and in their own homes use Kontigo’s solution to perform much of the required care means a great deal, and this motivates positive behavioural changes that lead to improvements in the long-term.
“The greatest significance of this award is that it puts the focus on our mission to change Swedish and international dependency care,” comments Kontigo Care’s CEO Henrik Nordlindh.
“It is unacceptable that 80% of all patients undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse may relapse. That skilled therapists lack access to modern digital medical devices, and that society lacks tools for the efficient allocation of limited resources,” he continues.
From the left: Magnus Engevik, Business Development, Uppsala BIO, Maria Winkvist, Product Manager, Kontigo Care, Markku Hämäläinen, Chief Scientific Officer, Kontigo Care.
Some personal reflections
Here I would like to make some personal reflections. Misuse of different kinds not only affects individuals, but to a large extent their families, friends, colleagues and many others as well. There are a large number of different addiction problems, different gradings if you like, but they all share significant similarities in terms of cause and expression, and they all lead to high costs and significant suffering.
The perception of abuse has also been a bit: “Just pull your collar up,” or “What are you doing, just put a stop to it” and other moralising statements that usually do not lead to progress being made.
I want to point out that alcohol abuse is a disease, with several ICD-10 diagnostic codes of its own, just as there are diagnostic codes for different types of cancer or heart disease. The person who urges a heart patient to “pull their collar up” is likely to be considered rather extreme and quite uninitiated.
A functioning innovation support system is needed
Addiction such as alcohol abuse is a disease and should therefore be treated as such! This particular case thus epitomises a very clear (customer) problem, where we are searching high and low for a sustainable solution that solves the problem, and that ‘we’ are willing to pay for if it works.
At the same time, you need the ability to realise visions, experience of research and development, the know-how to start a business that continuously delivers sellable products, etc. etc.
Then you must present it all for users, customers, payers, etc. in a convincing manner. That’s why we need a functioning innovation support system that ensures high quality and that is readily accessible.
One of the most exciting developments I’ve experienced
After speaking with Chief Scientific Officer Markku Hämäläinen, I dare to say that Uppsala has managed to live up to this! The fact that Kontigo Care’s newly developed Previct platform on its own can completely tailor evidence-based, supportive at-home monitoring (independent of treatment) to individual patient needs increases its value and meaning many fold!
Kontigo Care’s work with digital biomarkers is one of the most exciting developments I have experienced during my career!
The fact that Sweden lacks simple, clear and common processes for introducing new, disruptive products of great clinical significance makes Uppsala BIO’s active involvement in the project Ordered Introduction of Digital Services and Products in the Swedish healthcare sector even more urgent!
M.Sc., Business Development
About Magnus Engevik
Magnus Engevik currently works on business development at Uppsala BIO. As a former International Product Manager for a then new biomarker for excessive alcohol use within the product area ‘Alcohol Related Diseases’ at Pharmacia Diagnostics.
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