ChemEng Conversations: In Conversation with Dr Chiara Heide (Brightcure)
Episode 9 of ChemEng Conversations was indeed a special one, not least as it was the final episode filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm and completely altered the norms of our daily lives! When I watched the episode back whilst handling post-production during lockdown, my attention immediately focused on the fact that I was standing within 1 m of my guest, without wearing a facemask, with no qualms about shaking hands. Those times seem like a completely different era!
Right, that’s enough reminiscing – now time to get to the conversation itself. It was a real pleasure to have my fellow PhD colleague in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Dr. Chiara Heide, on ChemEng Conversations to promote her new start-up, Brightcure. Chiara first started her tenure in the Department as an MSc student, after which she was awarded the prestigious Marit Mohn Scholarship to fund her PhD. She very recently completed her PhD under the guidance of Dr. Cleo Kontaravdi, working on cell-free protein synthesis factories – an interdisciplinary project between bioengineering, chemistry, and synthetic biology.
During her PhD, Chiara founded her start-up company, Brightcure (www.bcure.co.uk), which aims to treat recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) without relying on antibiotics, which can cause side effects or prove ineffective due to UTIs exhibiting antimicrobial resistance. Brightcure’s novel technology would use localised light therapy as a targeted treatment to kill bacteria in the bladder. In light of the potential of this revolutionary technology, Chiara and the Brightcure team were awarded the Imperial White City Innovator’s Programme – a £6,000 prize package, including £4,000 cash to support the business’s growth.
It was a pleasure to have such an interesting conversation with her on the show and find out more about her story leading up to Brightcure and how she envisions the future of her company developing.
Could you tell us about yourself and the story behind Brightcure?
Sure! Hi everyone! My name is Chiara and I’m the CEO of Brightcure. I suffered for a long time from recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) caused by harmful bacteria in my bladder. However, I’m not alone as this is a huge problem for a lot of women. In fact, every second woman worldwide, across all age groups, suffers from recurrent UTIs. If you look at the statistics – there are around 34 million women in the UK . 15% of these women get UTIs every year – that’s 5 million women in the UK alone! To put that into context, around 3 million people live in inner London. So that’s a huge and eye-opening number. Currently, UTIs are only treated with antibiotics. However, antibiotics can cause harmful side effects in patients, destroy the gut and genital flora, and/or prove ineffective due to UTIs exhibiting antimicrobial resistance. Unfortunately, there are no alternatives out in the market. However, there is a pressing need for patients like me, who look for alternative treatment options. Large pharmaceutical companies are not addressing this as they continue to sell their tried-and-tested, traditional antibiotics. Therefore, we came with Brightcure, as I became traumatized, not only with my own health struggles with UTIs, but also after hearing the stories from my female colleagues and what they were going through.
Could you tell us a bit more about the science behind this technology developed by Brightcure?
Basically, the science behind the technology is a revolutionary probiotic therapy that is completely different to what is out there on the market. It is a predator bacterium that eats, and thereby kills, the harmful bacteria causing the infection in the bladder. It’s antimicrobial efficacy and safety has been tested in labs and also in animal studies. We’re currently in the proof-of-concept testing phase and already, we have seen that the predator bacterium in the probiotic is able to survive in human urine and can clear an infection.
When you complete the safety testing, how do you envision your product and customer experience to look like?
Sure – so initially, the product will be delivered as a food supplement as this is the easiest route from a regulator pathway for the patient to ingest the probiotic. In the next 5 years, we envision that we will have two products that sell B2B (Business 2 Business) and B2C (Business 2 Customer). Out of these two products, there will be one product, which can be purchased online or in stores, tailored to patients that suffer frequently from infections, such as myself. It would be a food supplement in a capsule that you would take daily, which basically rebalances your genital flora, to reduce the likelihood of harmful bacteria invading the bladder. The second product would be a stronger one for the acute case. So once you already feel this burning sensation in the bladder and you have this constant need to painfully urinate, then you can go to the pharmacy and you can purchase this product which has a higher concentration of the predator bacterium, which is kept in cold storage. What makes Brightcure’s products unique and what do you think will be the impact on the market?
I think the main difference is that the predator bacterium in our products doesn’t prey on the healthy gut and genital flora that is needed in our bodies. This means that you can take it on a preventive basis everyday, which you can’t do with antibiotics. Through our products, we are counteracting the spread of antimicrobial resistance, which is one of the biggest threats of the 21st century. At the same time, we’re really hoping that Brightcure will empower women, a cause that I am very passionate about, and provide them with a much better quality of life by removing the fear/anxiety of recurrent UTIs.