TWO Scottish engineers who have built a world-leading robotic walking aid for people in wheelchairs will see their company Rex Bionics listed on the Alternative Investment Market next month.
Richard Little moved to New Zealand 22 years ago and started the project in 2003 when his co-founder Robert Irving, who like Mr Little trained in his native Fort William, was diagnosed with multiple scelerosis.
The REX is the world's only commercial exoskeleton which allows the user to walk without the use of crutches and with their hands free, enabling them to perform everyday tasks and take vital exercise. It is available in a personal version costing around $150,000 (£95,000) and in some rehabilitation centres.
The company was struggling to raise finance when it was spotted 18 months ago by Union MedTech, a London-based medical technology investment vehicle founded by former Rothschilds fund manager Jeremy Curnock Cook. Now Union is to move its own listing from the ISDX onto AIM with the £10m all-share acquisition of Rex, a £10m placing of new shares, and a name change to Rex Bionics, with dealings starting on May 8. Mr Cook and Mr Little, who will retain around 10% of the company, were in Edinburgh yesterday wooing institutions and will be in Glasgow next month.
The goal of the commercial rollout is initially to target people with spinal cord injuries through hospitals and rehabilitation centres, though the REX can be used by people with other types of mobility impairment. The company says it is potentially a huge market, with around 2.7million wheelchair users in the US and 2.9m living with some degree of paralysis, costing the US healthcare system around $40bn annually, and European incidence on a similar scale.
Mr Little, a marine engineer who worked for BAE Systems among others, said the concept began when Mr Irving was first diagnosed. "There was a high likelihood he would be confined to a wheelchair....we decided to build Robert a set of robotic legs. By 2007 we had a proof of concept that worked, and went out looking for funding."
Mr Curnow Cook was on a global trawl for investable medical device companies when he was directed to Mr Little's warehouse in Auckland. "The big problem in New Zealand is you can come up with the brightest of bright ideas but there is a limit to how much money you can raise. Richard had created a business that could be very successful if anybody knew where it was."
The new company plans to release the rehabilitation version gradually into targeted outlets, whilst developing REX 2 (with more features but at lower cost) for regulatory approval in the US. The £10m fundraising will support an expansion of manufacturing in New Zealand, new distribution and sales capabilities, and working capital to roll out the REX products internationally.
Mr Cook, who boasts a strong track record in life sciences investment, said: "If this unfolds in the way we expect it to we will have created a business opportunity which may well then engage much larger companies, either as partners or final owners." He said analysts believed the company would reach profitability during 2016.