These are exciting times for Emblation, the Scottish health technology specialist.

The company, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, is in the midst of moving its headquarters from Alloa in Clackmannanshire to a new £4 million base at Castle Business Park in Stirling, complete with views of the castle and, when you gaze towards the horizon, the Wallace Monument.

The move takes place as Emblation undertakes three major clinical studies. It is exploring potential new uses for Swift, its portable medical device based on microwave technology which has already successfully treated verrucae and warts in thousands of patients.

“It is a much better opportunity for us getting the right calibre of staff in,” said chief executive Gary Beale, who co-founded the company with Eamon McErlean in 2008, about the new HQ.

“We are less than a minute from the motorway, so it’s great for commuting. Stirling at this moment is getting a lot of money pumped into it. Its infrastructure in terms of rail network is all pretty good for us [and] there is a park and ride that passes our door. It makes it a lot easier for people to commute.

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“Alloa was a great place for us to have started off. We had been there for 15 years. I think we had just outgrown the Wee County.”

While Mr Beale said Emblation could have set up its new headquarters anywhere, the decision to remain in Scotland owed much to the networks it has established over the last decade and a half.

Mr Beale and Mr McErlean decided to base their new business in Scotland because of the support on offer, including from the high-growth start-up unit now run by the Scottish Enterprise, to get them “investor ready”.

“We did a fund-raise in 2009 [backed by high-net-worth investors in central Scotland] and managed to raise enough to develop our first products,” Mr Beale said.

“Pretty much from there it has gone from strength-to-strength. We could have done it anywhere but the networks that we had in Scotland made it far from desirable to relocate my family again.”

Asked if that network is as strong for new businesses in Scotland today, he said: “There is a great life sciences sector within Scotland and the whole of the UK. Scotland has a lot of up-and-coming and established medical device and pharmaceutical companies. I think it is a great place to be.”

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Mr Beale studied engineering and completed a masters in digital systems at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, before undertaking PhD research in medical microwaves. He was headhunted by a medical device business called Microsulis, which was working on microwave technology, while working for a Ministry of Defence company, and helped to set up its UK headquarters in Hampshire. It then established a research arm in Scotland.

Mr McErlean joined Microsulis, where Mr Beale and a former colleague at Heriot-Watt Peter Smith, now chief operating officer of Emblation, became directors, while studying for his PhD at the institution. While Mr Beale and Mr Smith worked for Microsulis in Boston, Mr McErlean was based in Hampshire.

Mr Beale then joined Boston Scientific after the firm began to struggle

Shortly thereafter, he and Mr McErlean put the wheels in motion to establish Emblation.

By harnessing their academic know-how and innovative approach, Emblation has built its name with medical devices that can be used to treat a host of dermatological and, it is hoped, different forms of cancer using microwave technology. Crucial to their endeavours has been their success in cutting down the size of microwave systems that were in use before Emblation began that were “the size of large under-counter fridges, like a large oven on trolleys”.

“We are only a few kilos in weight compared to what was previously 30kg-50kg,” Mr Beale said. “Innovation is really what drove the company to where we are just now.”

A further crucial event came two years ago with an investment from Apposite Capital, a London-based private equity firm focused on the medical sector. The funding has allowed Emblation to accelerate its scale up plans, grow its team from around 23 to 65 in the UK, and acquire a company in the US that was formerly its distributor in October. Emblation also has a subsidiary in Germany, meaning its overall headcount is 75, with an ambition to take staff numbers to around 100.

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Today, the Swift device is in place of around 2,000 locations, primarily in dermatological and podiatry-based clinics where as many as 350,000 people have been treated for warts.

“Our post-market clinical data is showing efficacies significantly higher than any other product on the market at this moment,” Mr Beale said.

It also currently has three major studies under way that are hoped will produce major leaps forward for the technology in different areas.

Two of the studies relate to podiatry. The Swift device is being trialled for its potential treatment of common or plantar warts and also for fungal nail infections, which although affect huge numbers of people around the world and are frequently the main reason for visits to podiatrists, are not treated particularly successfully.

“The prevalence is phenomenal worldwide, so to get a clinical indication and able to treat that condition effectively would be an amazing outcome,” Mr Beale said.

The third study now under way in Germany and the US concerns the treatment of actinic keratoses (AK), a “skin-related, sun-damaged” condition that can potentially become malignant.

“What we are doing is treating this pre-cancerous lesion using microwave  using only a few Watts of microwave energy on the skin,” Mr Beale explained.

“We have already done a study in the University of Dundee, where saw effectiveness in the 90 per cents. This is really the trial to give us the ability to put that clinical indication in place to allow us to publicise those efficacy rates.”

He added: “The opportunity of [securing] funding for these up-and-coming oncology-based clinical studies is something that is quite exciting.”

Over and above these “optimised control trials”, Mr Beale said Emblation has a “plethora of case studies and feasibility studies going on, covering a wide gamut of clinical conditions, cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions as well as other viral-related lesions”.

Meanwhile the company, which Mr Beale said has developed the “smallest, most compact microwave system in the world”, has been approached to work alongside major medical companies on development projects. It currently has one system approved to treat soft tissue ablations and can ultimately be used in cancers of the lung, kidney, breast, and liver.

“We have a few thousand systems out in the market – they are [supplied] under white label to the medical device company,” he said. “They, I believe, have done in excess of one million treatments, so that is obviously a live-saving achievement. That is very much being put to great use at this moment.”

Emblation now has more than 200 patents with a portfolio that Mr Beale said is “constantly evolving”.

Asked if the company would seek further investment to drive its growth ambitions, Mr Beale said: “Absolutely. The cost of some of oncology-based studies goes into the significant millions and we would need to raise money to do those. We have got some exciting work going on in the feasibility and case study work that we are doing. That will allow us to have the grounding for getting additional funding for those clinical opportunities.

“We do expect that to get to the size that we want to get to and create the revenue that we are projecting will require additional funding.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

In the mid 2000s before starting Emblation, I lived near Boston MA. Since then, I have travelled extensively throughout North America both on business and with my family.  The weather obviously shapes your opinions, but San Diego and Cape Cod are two of my family favourites.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I was always interested in speed from a very young age and still remember the sound and smells of the RAF airshows my parents and siblings frequented annually.  I even applied to be a trainee pilot in my teens. My constant quest to understand how things worked and how to bridge gaps all played a major part in becoming very tech-centric... Emblation was born from this.

What was your biggest break in business?

Having worked for a number of microwave technology companies (both medical and industrial), I could see the technological limitations at that time which prevented companies from embarking on developments in microwave medicine. My company’s big break was overcoming those technological barriers which allowed us to develop and manufacture the world’s smallest and most portable medical microwave systems for use in cancer treatments as well as skin conditions. This allowed us to partner with one of the world’s leaders in medical microwaves, a partnership that is still going strong.

What was your worst moment in business?

Our worst moment (more a period) in business was definitely during the global lockdown because this impacted not only our ability to get our swift product out to our customers (given all the clinics were closed) but it also halted all the clinical research we had scheduled relating to investigating potential cancer and precancer treatments using swift. 

Who do you most admire and why?

It is difficult to put a finger on a single individual but what I do admire is a person with grit. Determination and drive of an individual, even when someone is frantically waving a white flag in front of you, takes a lot of courage and focus. When the goal is clear to you, the likelihood of success is much higher.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

I am close to finishing Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. I heard about this book whilst listening to a comedian’s podcast and it has astonished me how far greed and deceit will take some people. Music plays a huge part in my life so picking one song is almost impossible however I have picked my guitar up again after a long hiatus and am teaching myself an old favourite Pride and Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughan