Staff Writer

An unusual Hong Kong company is looking to take an innovative glucose measuring system global. The system tests saliva rather than blood.

Based at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP), eNano Health (ENH) launched Kiss and Tell, a glucose metering system that can detect glucose concentration levels without any blood droplets.

"Traditionally, the markers in our saliva are fewer than in blood. But as our technology is very sensitive, it can be as accurate as a blood test," Winnie Leung, CEO of ENH, told Medical Device Daily. "If patients control their diet and exercise well they don't even have to take medicine. But in most cases, patients fail to do that. So an easy-to-use feedback system is extremely important."

Instead of taking blood drops using a painful finger prick, the device tests the patient's saliva in about a minute and indicates the glucose level using a color-coded system. The closer to red the indicator turns the higher the glucose level. To minimize error, users can read the result by comparing it a benchmark color swatch. Users can scan a QR code in the test strip and monitor their diabetes using a mobile application – the data is saved in the cloud for long-term management. The device can also help control other chronic diseases that are controlled by cutting down on sugar intake, such as obesity

"There are other new technologies {to test glucose levels}, such as using a watch-like device to test through your skin but they were recalled," said Leung. "Our salivary glucose meter is the first of its kind. You can't patent the approach of testing the saliva but we are applying for patents for some parts of the technology."

ENH's aim was to create a product that allows diabetes patients to monitor their glucose levels with ease and it appears to have done that. The Kiss and Tell won a gold medal at the 42nd International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva in April.

"What really matters is comparing with your own data. Whether your glucose level is higher than yesterday or lower after exercise," said Leung.

"Pre-screening is a very important step. We have seven million people in Hong Kong and 700,000 of them have diabetes. And there are more that are not diagnosed yet," Leung said. "Obesity is also an increasing concern, especially among children, but mothers probably won't like the idea of pricking their kids' finger to just see what their glucose level is. They could even get an infection with the open wound. This salivary test is the safest and easiest."

Reaching patients in Hong Kong, a relatively small market, is just a first step. ENH has applied for approval to the FDA, for a CE mark in Europe and to the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). It expects to be able to commercialize Kiss and Tell by the end of this year.

"In Hong Kong, there is no registration requirement. But hospitals and doctors usually will check if your product has FDA approval or the CE mark," said Leung. "We are also thinking to launch the product in Hong Kong first. There are some hospitals and doctors in Hong Kong testing it now."

ENH is targeting two kinds of users.

Healthy users may use the device two or three times a year to monitor their glucose and prevent a potential spike in their glucose levels. For these users, a single test strip would cost HK$10 ($1.29) per test. For diabetes patients that may have to test themselves several times a day the cost would be lower.

Because it is a low-risk device, the product could be sold through pharmacies and online.

"We are looking at a direct-to-user model [for sales]," said Leung. "We are also talking with distributors in different markets."

ENH is also working on a series of eNano sensors that could be used to detect a wide range of diseases or wellness markers, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, HIV, tuberculosis, avian influenza and other viral diseases using a combination of electronics and nanotechnology.

"It is a far more powerful platform that could be applied to many detections," said Leung.

Despite being one of the largest financial centers in the world, Hong Kong produces very little healthcare innovation. So companies like ENH are unusual. Established in 2011, ENH is part of the incubation program run by HKSTP, which provides shared facilities, equipment and grants for office equipment, chemicals, networking and helps with fundraising for enterprises that meet their criteria.

ENH also received research grants through the University-Industry Collaboration Program (UICP) and Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance Program (SERAP) in Hong Kong. The government provided HK$3 million ($387,000) through a matching grant that required a similar amount of up-front investment.

The lack of access to funds in Hong Kong has been a challenge for the industry. Despite strong infrastructure and facilities, the lack of innovation has been conspicuous in the city. Many blame this lack of innovation on a shortage of investors willing to fund healthcare companies.

"Fundraising is difficult in Hong Kong, especially for young startup companies like us," said Leung. "Unlike an IT company that you can start with one person and one computer, medical devices require much more investment. Investors may chose to put the money in property, where the returns are faster."

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