Picking up early signals: SPINOVIT to prevent cardiovascular diseases with new monitoring method

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Nancy Van Overstraeten

Preventing cardiovascular diseases before the first symptoms arise? That’s the ambition of SPINOVIT – a Louvain-La-Neuve company using a new biomarker and innovative technology to achieve its goal. A large clinical trial should be finished in 2023, after which the young company’s product will be launched on the market. In the long term, SPINOVIT’s solution could become part of people’s annual blood check-ups.

Header image: Nancy Van Overstraeten, CEO of SPINOVIT

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 18 million people died from such illnesses in 2019, with heart attack and stroke being the most common culprits. “About 8 out of 10 of these cardiovascular deaths could have been avoided, if the symptoms of the underlying conditions were picked up early enough,” says Nancy Van Overstraeten, CEO of SPINOVIT.

SPINOVIT was launched in February 2022 as a spin-off company of the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain). Its mission is based on a dozen years of research at the laboratory of Prof. Jean-Luc Balligand at UCLouvain. His team developed a new way to measure a crucial biomarker – nitric oxide (NO) – which can signal early problems in blood vessels that are likely to lead to cardiovascular conditions if left untreated. The molecule plays an important role in the elasticity of blood vessels and helps avoid the clotting of vessels.

“If you already have clinical symptoms of cardiovascular diseases, it will probably affect your health for the rest of your life,” explains Van Overstraeten. “So it’s of crucial importance to pick up worrying signals as early as possible, even before clinical symptoms, which is not yet possible using current methods.”

Efficiently monitoring people’s vascular health

Doctors and cardiologists now generally measure the risk of a cardiovascular disease with the SCORE algorithm. This is a prediction tool that looks at important factors such as the smoking habits, blood pressure, cholesterol, age, and gender of patients. “But this way, they can only assess the probability of developing the disease, not the patient’s actual condition,” says Van Overstraeten. “The SCORE algorithm doesn’t take into account your family medical history, existence of diabetes, and many lifestyle factors that also have a significant impact: eating habits, weight, sports activities, sleep quality, stress levels, etc.”

“About 8 out of 10 of these cardiovascular deaths could have been avoided, if the symptoms of the underlying conditions were picked up early enough.” – Nancy Van Overstraeten

To assess a patient’s vascular health, SPINOVIT only needs 1 ml of blood of the patient. But the blood has to be drawn with the ‘spiringe’: a syringe developed by SPINOVIT to efficiently check the targeted biomarker. The blood sample is analyzed by Electron Paramagnetic Resonance spectroscopy (EPR), a method to study molecules rarely used in the biotech industry. A quick analysis of the data is then carried out using a machine-learning-based software named ‘spinocal’. Both the specific EPR technology and software have been developed and patented by SPINOVIT, with the price of SPINOVIT’s test amounting to roughly €100.

SPINOVIT’s goal is to include its method as a reimbursed part of annual blood check-ups at the general practitioner’s office. “This way, we can efficiently monitor whether people have vascular issues, and whether these are getting close to a critical threshold beyond which problems become serious. If the test flags problems, cardiologists can suggest the necessary treatments. They also obtain clear proof to motivate people to change their lifestyle and take certain preventive medication consistently.”

For cardiologists, anesthesiologists, endocrinologists, and gynecologists

SPINOVIT’s large-scale ambitions will have to wait for the first few steps of market entry, however. The company has already carried out 10 pilot studies with more than 600 patients and is currently undertaking a large-scale clinical trial with 1500 patients, focuses on the needs of anesthesiologists. The trial is examining to which extent the test can flag the vulnerability of patients before surgeries, and thus help anesthesiologists to better prevent complications during surgery preparation. This study should provide the validation necessary to enter the market by the summer of 2023.

“One euro spent in prevention is ten euros saved in treatment.” – Nancy Van Overstraeten

The logical next step is to reach out to cardiologists, but SPINOVIT will also target endocrinologists and gynecologists. “Our solution can help endocrinologists to determine if a patient with obesity needs an urgent weight-loss surgery, like a gastric bypass, or profound lifestyle changes. For gynecologists, it can be a crucial tool to check for signs of preeclampsia.” Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can occur during pregnancy. It affects 5-7% of all pregnant women and is responsible for over 70.000 maternal deaths and 500.000 infant deaths worldwide every year.

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To finish its major clinical trial, SPINOVIT raised about €1 million, of which €470.000 is funding from the Walloon region that will need to be reimbursed. Its investors are the Belgian investment funds Vives, B2start and SRIW. To launch itself on the market and set up new clinical trials in the autumn of 2023, the company plans a second round of investments at the start of the year.

“For our commercial development, we will first target different Western European countries, and then the United States,” says Van Overstraeten. “I’m confident they will realize the huge benefit for public health. Also in economic terms: because one euro spent in prevention is ten euros saved in treatment.”