Gerard & Anton Award winner Gilbert Technologies: The smart inhaler for lung patients (AI-generated image)
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Gilbert Technologies designs and develops medical devices to improve health care, offering a better quality of life. The technology is applied in novel medical inhalation devices with lung deposition characteristics for pulmonary medicine administration for patients with asthma or other lung diseases. Gilbert was founded in 2014 with the goal of acquiring the electrospray (electrohydrodynamic atomization, EHDA) technology from TU Delft in order to optimize and validate this technology and then further develop it into a smart precision inhaler.

  • The Gerard & Anton Awards ceremony highlights 10 promising start-ups each year.
  • Gilbert Technologies was one of the 2023 winners.
  • This start-up offers a smart inhaler for lung patients.

CEO Maurits Huigen says that “revolutionizing the treatment of lung patients with a breakthrough solution for precision delivery of advanced drugs to the lungs” is the mission of his company. “Our goal is to ultimately replace systemic administration of costly treatments with local administration via inhalation, to improve outcomes for patients with difficult-to-treat lung diseases, as well as other conditions, reduce healthcare costs, and relieve pressure on the healthcare system.”

Gilbert Technologies, © Bram van Daal
Gilbert Technologies, © Bram van Daal

Chronic lung disease is the third leading cause of death and disability worldwide. More than four million people die annually from lung disease, and this number has increased substantially in recent years, since the COVID-19 pandemic. Administration of medication by inhalation is the cornerstone of treatment for patients with various respiratory diseases. The current generation of inhalers is the result of decades of research, design, and innovative technology, and in that time, these devices have improved the quality of life of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Huigen: “Still, significant challenges exist in terms of innovation and improvement in targeted medication delivery to the lungs. This is what Gilbert is responding to. Our first goal is to improve treatments with antibiotics, biologicals, and oncolytics with our smart precision inhaler, which will be developed in collaboration with biopharmaceutical partner companies.”

Changes ahead

With innovation in inhalation technology solutions, the pharmaceutical industry will start to see some changes in the coming years. Pulmonary diseases will remain the main area of application for inhaled therapy, and Gilbert is counting on a growing interest in using inhalers to enable systemic drug delivery for other disease states. “A new generation of inhalers will be developed that will enable more efficient drug delivery, which may offer additional benefits to both patients and developers. There will also be more focus on improving the usability of inhalers for patients using human factor engineering and smart technologies.”

Developing a medical company in times of COVID-19 is especially challenging, as Huigen and his team found out. “Developing a first working prototype during the corona pandemic, together with our partner Philips Engineering Solutions, was a difficult period. But we succeeded!” Gilbert’s biggest success to date would be the recent closing of a Series A investment round (€7 million). “With this funding, we aim to eventually move through the clinical phase into the commercial phase by reaching important milestones, both in the development of our precision inhaler and in the collaboration with pharmaceutical companies for the first drug application of the device.” 

Brainport Eindhoven

Many parties within the Brainport Eindhoven ecosystem are willing and able to help each other, Huigen says. “But only if you make it very clear what you do, what you want to achieve, and know how to ask the right questions. Since our establishment on the High Tech Campus in 2020, we have found within the Brainport ecosystem both our financing partners, our development partners, the desired housing, and our partners for the expansion of our company.”

Thinking “beyond the Brainport ecosystem” can be further strengthened, he adds. “Basically, the Brainport region offers everything to start as a company, but it would be ideal if we continue to work together to strengthen the connection with the international ecosystems so that the companies can then be catapulted into the world from a strong base in the Brainport region.”

As a winner in the ninth round of Gerard & Anton Awards, Gilbert is part of an already strong tradition. Out of the eighty former winners, which one stands out for Maurits Huigen? “That would be Bambi Medical. It is great to see technological development from clinical care practice, which means a lot to (many) premature babies, their parents, and the healthcare system, being developed into a global solution. It is a relatively small group of patients worldwide, and therefore all the more amazing that this innovation is going to reach the world from the Brainport region. It speaks to the imagination that this start-up realized both the funding, the technological development, and the (CE) certification while at the same time, the European regulations for medical devices were undergoing major changes.”