From test lab to the market

From test lab to the market
Business Collaboration
Trailblazer researcher becoming a business leader to help millions of people. The journey of Dr Conor Kerley.

The issue with supplements available on the market at the moment is there are so many products with little no science behind them. During the course of my PhD, I uncovered how plant-based food components could lower blood sugar and blood pressure.

Creating a game-changer product

I have very personal reasons to become interested in nutrition and health.

Before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003 shortly after my 16th birthday, I was hospitalised with major balance issues. It was scary enough but there was a middle-aged man in the bed beside me, he had a stroke while playing golf. The stroke caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure left him paralysed from the neck down. Although he could talk, eat, drink and was mentally very able, he couldn't move the rest of his body. When he needed a nurse he would ask me to ring the bell for him.

One of my aunts has a long-standing type 2 diabetes. I don't see her too often as she spends 18 hours a week hooked up to a dialysis machine in a hospital. She travels one hour to dialysis and one hour back - three times per week. Also has heart failure, nerve issues and eye problems all caused by unchecked blood sugar levels.

All these experiences made me realise that prevention and awareness are key and inspired me to do something about it. After my honours graduation in dietetics and doctorate in nutrition, I was keen on helping people improve their diets.

My vision was to have a safe, natural, affordable option to help control blood sugar, blood pressure and brain health – however, this seemed to be very close to a fairy tale.

I won a major award from the British Hypertension Society which got me to attend as a presenter at the 2017 Australian Blood Pressure conference. Afterwards, I spent 6 weeks travelling around Australia and speaking at conferences, meeting with leading experts. I also spent a lot of time on planes and trains by myself which gave me time to think:

As a single clinician there is a limit to how many people I can see and help in a year. With a nutrition supplement, I can help millions!

So when I came back from Australia I completed a “Start your own business” course run by the Local Enterprise Office. I also started a new job as a lecturer but spent my evenings and weekends finding out more about building a business.

I knew there was much potential for my business idea so I left full-time employment to create a company. That's how Setanta Nutrition Science was born.

A simple but ambitious mission

I'd like to help millions of people around the world by providing nutrition supplements, based on research, to help prevent and treat diabetes, and high blood pressure.

My preliminary research in tests tubes and on myself has shown a remarkable effect. As a crazy scientist, I started with self-experimentation, assessing my own blood sugar and blood pressure responses to meals with certain added components.

I noticed some components which were beneficial, then I tried these components together and they have shown an even greater response!

The breakthrough: Transforming research findings into a viable product

My strength is science and research but in order to make this solution widely available, I have to build a business. It’s difficult with lots of learning.

At the moment I have many wonderful mentors but practically I’m the only person working full time within the business. I’m building up a team but it takes time until then I try to keep my focus on the end goals and work towards them every day.

Chasing funding is exhaustive, as are other elements of starting a business by yourself.

I’m naturally energetic and enthusiastic, also eat and sleep healthy which helps. When there is a setback or a delay I can I think of the big picture: there is huge potential to help people around the world.

Lots of supports are available, the real issue is trying to find the right one.

The Local Enterprise Office Louth, Ireland was a great starting point, they have been very supportive of me and my business idea. We obtained maximum feasibility funding which is really helping to accelerate the process of building a company. In addition, I won Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur in the Louth region.

The other big help came from Dublin Business Innovation Centre (BIC), namely Conor Carmody investor-ready manager, who has been so friendly, open, and honest. He was one of the judges at the Business SPIRIT Award and has helped me so much figuring out my strategy.

I decided to leave full-time employment in November 2018, just a few weeks after the Responsible Innovation Summit where I presented my project, as a finalist for the Business SPIRIT Award.

This was a tough decision but it’s extremely difficult to launch a business anyway and almost impossible to do while being employed. I am very happy with this decision although, there are ups and downs, still, I am excited about the future!

Believing in the impact

Our product treats the underlying causes of diabetes and therefore could help prevent diabetes and also treat it.

Worldwide there are 800 million diabetics and pre-diabetics at a treating cost of $727 billion. Only in Ireland, there are 250,000 people with diabetes and pre-diabetes which cost the Health Service Executive (HSE) $845 million per year.

Our product is designed to improve diabetes control and decrease these risks, therefore the potential is massive. Making it available and helping people globally keeps me going.

Diabetes can lead to eye, kidney and nerve problem and even heart attacks and strokes. There are so many people at risk of diabetes that preventing or even delaying diabetes would reduce suffering and also costs.

We are about to start our first manufacturing run. Following this, we will conduct a human research study where we invite people who are overweight or worried about their health to visit our clinical facility while fasting.

We will measure blood sugar, cholesterol, inflammation in the blood as well as blood pressure. Breakfast with our supplement will be provided and we’ll measure the impact. On another occasion, we will repeat this but with a placebo instead of our supplement.

First will target diabetes prevention and treatment, later high blood pressure. In the future, we plan to expand our focus on solutions for brain disorders such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

We are more than open to get feedback, collaborate or share our findings. Please feel free to get in touch on social media - Twitter, LinkedIn.