Member Entrepreneur: AMRA
7 February 2018
Health tech Member AMRA has a vision to become a world-leading company with its system being used in hospitals across the world. AMRA is the first in the world to transform MR scans into precise fat and muscle measurements via an automated, cloud-based analysis service. The LINK spoke to AMRA’s CEO Tommy Johansson about how a documentary about McDonald’s food sparked the idea of the company, obesity being our greatest health challenge and the aim to build a global firm.
How was the idea of AMRA born?
The original idea for AMRA stemmed from “Super Size Me”, a 2004 documentary following Morgan Spurlock as he attempted to live on McDonald’s food for 30 days. From Linköping University in Sweden, Professor Magnus Borga and Professor Olof Dahlqvist Leinhard, decided to recreate the study with the aim to create a rapid, whole-body MR scan and an automated, precise way to measure various compartments and compartmental changes in the body. Their research led to the founding of AMRA in 2010, after which I joined as CEO in 2012.
Tell us a bit more about what you do.
AMRA’s cloud-based analysis service offers precise, automated insights that have far-reaching implications for clinical and academic research and also soon for the prediction and prevention of disease in a patient management setting. We are involved in research across the metabolic and musculoskeletal fields, with one of our aims being to redefine obesity and metabolic risk using a personalised medicine approach. In clinical studies and therapeutic investigations, the use of multiple direct biomarkers enables improved patient inclusion criteria and the early detection of treatment effects.
Describe the journey of AMRA from being founded to where it is today?
To be from the life science sector, AMRA has grown quickly. As in all start-up companies, we began with very limited funding, partly from our own pockets and partly from small grants. This taught us to be careful with our costs and to prioritise. In 2015, Industrifonden, one of Sweden’s leading VC companies in the life science area, became the primary investor in AMRA. Shortly thereafter, they brought in an English Chairman of the Board, who quickly taught us to have a global view. We then landed a $9m investment from Pfizer Venture Investments and Novo Seeds. American and Danish investors then joined our board, supporting our global expansion even more. Today, AMRA has 35 employees across Sweden, Norway, and USA, and we are working with the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world, as well as leading academic centres in USA and Europe.
Do you see yourself as a Swedish company still and is that important to you?
From the first day, we have been clear in our aim to build a global company. We use our strengths as a Swedish company, such as high-quality research and development (R&D) skills, a flat organisational structure, and strong teamwork, but we implement these qualities in a sensitive way throughout the global organisation. Our sales and marketing are driven by Americans and we see that the combination of the two cultures really adds to the strength of the company.
Along the way, what have the main challenges been?
In the life science industry, there are many legal and regulatory requirements before you can launch a product on the market. To get regulatory approval, extensive research publications and validation projects are required, all of which costs an extensive amount of money. A main challenge has been to get the funding in place for our rapid growth. The key to this success – and to all company success – is always centred around employing the right individuals. We have been very successful in this area and have a fantastic team in place.
What is the future goal of the company?
Our short-term goal is to be used in clinical trials. The high accuracy and precision of our technology allows the detection of small changes early in an intervention process, and the use of direct body composition measurements allows for better selection of patients into a study overall. As pharma invests great amounts into testing new compounds, anything that can improve the process, or the outcome is a great benefit – and that’s where we come in. Long-term, our vision is to be used in hospitals across numerous disease areas, whereby patient treatments and preventative measures are improved through personalised assessments. In this way, we are building the evidence base needed to ultimately predict and prevent disease.
What is the best part of your job?
It is great to make a difference to human kind, as obesity and ageing are a growing issue with huge consequences to our health and healthcare systems. If we can help predict the risk of disease development at an early stage, and thus prevent disease, that’d be amazing.