Dr George O’Neil is a pioneer in the development of innovative products for the improvement of common medical procedures and treatments for those seeking help with addictions.
Inspired by the challenges he faced working in remote parts of Australia, Africa and cities such as Glasgow and Perth in the 1980s, Dr O’Neil began developing new products for use in obstetrics, pain management, malnutrition, catheterisation, drug delivery and addictions. This resulted in the establishment of pharmaceutical company Go Medical Industries Pty Ltd in 1986.
The first products developed by Go Medical were the O’Neil® Vacuum cup and the O’Neil® Urinary Catheter, a product that revolutionised the way intermittent urinary catheterisation was carried out. Go Medical now specialises in the manufacture of infusion devices (Springfusor®, flow control tubing), Patient Controlled Anaesthesia device (Nasal PCA’s), Intravenous Tubing (V-Set), Obstetrics (Amnicot) and urinary catheters.
Dr O’Neil has pioneered the use of naltrexone for opiate addiction and runs an addiction treatment clinic in Perth, now part of the Fresh Start Recovery Programme. The centre concentrates on detox, relapse prevention treatment and developing a drug-free lifestyle.
For the past 25 years, Wrays has provided intellectual property services to Dr O’Neil and Go Medical. We sat down with Dr O’Neil to discuss his work.
The goal of Go Medical is to develop innovative products to improve common medical procedures. When you identify a solution to a problem, what are the next steps?
The first step is discussing the concept with people who understand the related science. Go Medical concentrates on improving common procedures because after investing a lot of effort and money in identifying the need and area of improvement, less market research is required.
Once you’ve got your concept together, then you have to make a prototype. After it has been tested on the bench, you then make a series of prototypes for clinical evaluation and then get ready to set up a clinical trial or study. The next step is the regulatory work and then it is a matter of the right product, in the right place, at the right price with the right marketing and training whilst meeting the growing regulatory requirements.
Most of the work at Go Medical concentrates on going back to basic science to deal with a common procedure. For example, with malnutrition in children, traditionally if you wanted to administer a drip, you needed a hospital, doctors and nurses and expensive bags of fluid. Go Medical developed nasogastric tubing which only requires a nurse and a bit of water from the river. A simple, scientific solution to a common problem.
How do you collaborate with universities and research organisations for the development of your products?
Universities, within reason, are keen on teaching students how to think and are very keen on publications and training. I personally have medical students at Fresh Start regularly and often engineers as well. I used to lecture regularly to the university engineering department on how to invent.
I hardly ever put my name on the front of a publication, because I know I’m the inventor. I’m the person coming up with ideas. It’s much better that somebody else evaluates my idea because there’s less bias. So that suits my purpose and it suits the university’s purpose. I’ll be trying to produce products and the university will be trying to help their students and get publications.
To date, you have treated thousands of patients with your naltrexone implant. Can you explain how the implant works?
The Fresh Start clinic where I practice has treated 9,000 with implants and there is still an enormous number of people we haven’t yet reached.
The implant delivers naltrexone, which blocks the effect of opioids, eliminating the need for patients to remember to take a daily pill or receive an injection every 4 months. Other commercial companies have introduced long-lasting buprenorphine. We made our first buprenorphine implant seven years ago. We didn’t commercialise them, and that’s an interesting example where we didn’t go for a cash flow because from our point of view, we didn’t want our patients to then become addicted to another addictive substance. However, from a company cash flow point of view, that may have been a smart option, but we’ve been concentrating on trying to go with a non-addictive substance. Our philosophies are based on what’s right to do.
You are currently running trials to get FDA approval for your naltrexone implant. Can you tell us about these?
To receive FDA approval is a big job. It costs an average of $1.4 billion to develop a new pharmaceutical product.
Columbia University has received a US $21 million grant to conduct trials of our naltrexone implant. The American Government has paid the university to work with us, and the product we’re trying to validate. Although Go Medical is directing and coordinating the research of Columbia University, it is a true collaboration. In the end, the American Government gets a product which is good for their people, but all of the initial technology belongs to Go Medical.
What funding does the Fresh Start Clinic receive?
Fresh Start costs about nine million a year to run. The reason it costs nine million is that we’re detoxing people. We’re running a hospital, we’re running a 24-hour accommodation service, multiple facilities and funding the wages for 80 people.
The state government contributes $3 million and at least $2 million comes from patients. The patients contribute $20 a week for something that costs us an average of $6000 or $7000 per patient. We also receive funding from the sale of medical devices from Go Medical and then of course we have our many volunteers.
Western Australia has a thriving biotechnology industry. To date, Australian Universities have developed 13 drugs that have received approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration. 5 of those came from WA. Why do you think Western Australia is so successful?
First of all, it is the most isolated region of the world, and that’s an advantage. We don’t have a big group of productive industries for our young people coming out of universities. If your young intelligent people are all chewed up by production work, they are not available for thinking work.
When I started my company I said, “Look, I don’t want to buy any machines from America and I don’t want to buy any machines from Europe. I want us to do the thinking.” That is what our company is based on – thinking. Whenever you’re building a business, you have to do a geographical analysis of your environment. Perth has got as good a chance as Silicone Valley to be a good long-term place for developing industries.
Without giving away your intellectual property, what else do you have in the pipeline?
I am working with the Western Australian Department of Health who have bought a large number of Springfusors® for Covid-19. They needed to know there were more pumps available if there was a big crisis. They have asked us for a report on how much money they’ll save if they use Springfusors®. In this case, the Springfusors® will have cost them in the order of $60. An ordinary pump could cost a thousand dollars or more. It means that they’re buying WA technology for WA hospitals. We will now need to invest in training for the use of the technology.
We are on the verge of launching a variety of “extension” products which will improve outcomes for patients, including those needing treatment at homes. Another product will assist keep veins open over 24 hours with saline – very little effort will be required to achieve this.
With the assistance of Wrays, we have succeeded in getting many patents approved. One of the most exciting is achieving the O’Neil trade mark. I am told getting a surname trade marked is almost impossible, but I am happy to tell you we use the ® with the O’Neil on our medical devices.
What have you learned about innovation and product development over the past 45 years of patenting?
Necessity is the mother of invention. Don’t waste your time on things that are not necessary. Go back to basic science to work out how to achieve the solution to your problem.
Growth in companies will be best if you’ve got projects where you’ve got 90% chance of success. But from a project point of view, the projects that are sort of difficult to do are worthwhile hanging on to, especially if they’re really necessary and they’re really needed. I ask what’s really necessary. It’s a very important question.