Technology Readiness Level (TRL) in biomedical development

The team in Glasgow has started to prepare a proposal for the upcoming NMBP-22-2018 call (a call for research projects under the EU H2020 programme) and we noticed that under scope of the projects in the call description it says that «Activities should start at TRL 3 and achieve TRL 5 at the end of the project.”
We know that TRL levels 3 to 5 in a biomedical research is from a proof-of-concept in vitro to animal models / pre-clinical trials completed, but different institutions have slightly different definitions. The call is quite precise on what levels expects at start and end of the project, so I have been looking for more details references of TRLs applied to biomedical research to see if we can better frame the expected goals for this call.

I found this great blog post that reports work by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command to develop TRL descriptions for the development of medical devices. The nine Medical Device TRL descriptions developed by the MRMC as they apply to medical devices are copied below. The TRL definitions pertain predominately to Class II and Class III medical devices that are subject to approval via the Premarket Approval (PMA) process.  Devices that are subject to approval via the 510(k) process (Market clearance; generally limited to certain Class I and Class II devices) may not require all of the studies described, and only require an Investigational Device Exemption if human studies are necessary.

These definitions are provided only as an example. If you choose to incorporate the concept of TRLs to product development approach, you need to tailor these descriptions to reflect your organization’s system engineering processes, culture, product line, and current regulations and standards

TRL1. Lowest level of technology readiness. Maintenance of scientific awareness and generation of scientific and bioengineering knowledge base.  Scientific findings are reviewed and assessed as a foundation for characterizing new technologies.  TRL 1 DECISION CRITERION:  Scientific literature reviews and initial Market Surveys are initiated and assessed.  Potential scientific application to defined problems is articulated.

TRL2. Intense intellectual focus on the problem with generation of scientific “paper studies” that review and generate research ideas, hypothesis, and experimental designs for addressing the related scientific issues. TRL 2 DECISION CRITERION: Hypothesis(es) is generated.  Research plans and/or protocols are developed, peer reviewed, and approved.

TRL3. Basic research, data collection, and analysis begin in order to test hypothesis, explore alternative concepts, and identify and evaluate component technologies. Initial tests of design concept, and evaluation of candidate(s).  Study endpoints defined.  Animal models (if any) are proposed.  Design verification, critical component specifications, and tests (if a system component, or necessary for device Test and Evaluation) developed.  TRL 3 DECISION CRITERION:  Initial proof-of-concept for device candidates is demonstrated in a limited number of laboratory models (may include animal studies).

TRL4. Non-Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) laboratory research to refine hypothesis and identify relevant parametric data required for technological assessment in a rigorous (worst case) experimental design. Exploratory study of candidate device(s)/systems (e.g., initial specification of device, system, and subsystems).  Candidate devices/systems are evaluated in laboratory and/or animal models to identify and assess potential safety problems, adverse events, and side effects.  Procedures and methods to be used during nonclinical and clinical studies in evaluating candidate devices/systems are identified.  The design history file, design review, and when required a master device record, are initiated to support either a Premarket Notification (510(k)) or PMA for Medical Devices. TRL 4 DECISION CRITERION: Proof-of-concept and safety of candidate devices/systems demonstrated in defined laboratory/animal models.

TRL5. Further development of selected candidate(s). Devices compared to existing modalities and indications for use and equivalency demonstrated in model systems.  Examples include devices tested through simulation, in tissue or organ models, or animal models if required.  All component suppliers/vendors are identified and qualified; vendors for critical components audited for Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP)/ Quality System Inspection Technique (QSR) compliance.  Component tests, component drawings, design history file, design review, and any master device record verified.  Product Development Plan drafted.  Pre-Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) meeting held with Center for Devices and Radiologic Health (CDRH) for proposed Class III devices, and the IDE is prepared and submitted to CDRH.  For a 510(k), determine substantially equivalent devices and their classification, validate functioning model, ensure initial testing is complete, and validate data and readiness for cGMP inspection.  TRL 5 DECISION CRITERION:  IDE review by CDRH results in determination that the investigation may begin.  For a 510(k), preliminary findings suggest the device will be substantially equivalent to a predicate device.

TRL6. Clinical trials conducted to demonstrate safety of candidate Class III medical device in a small number of humans under carefully controlled and intensely monitored clinical conditions. Component tests, component drawings, design history file, design review, and any master device record updated and verified.  Production technology demonstrated through production-scale cGMP plant qualification.  For 510(k), component tests, component drawings, design history file, design review, and any master device record updated and verified.  Manufacturing facility ready for cGMP inspection.  TRL 6 DECISION CRITERION: Data from the initial clinical investigation demonstrate that the Class III device meets safety requirements and supports proceeding to clinical safety and effectiveness trials.  For a 510(k), information and data demonstrate substantial equivalency to predicate device and support production of the final prototype and final testing in an operational environment.

TRL7. Clinical safety and effectiveness trials conducted with a fully integrated Class III medical device prototype in an operational environment. Continuation of closely controlled studies of effectiveness, and determination of short-term adverse events and risks associated with the candidate product.  Functional testing of candidate devices completed and confirmed, resulting in final down-selection of prototype device.  Clinical safety and effectiveness trials completed.  Final product design validated, and final prototype and/or initial commercial scale device are produced.  Data collected, presented, and discussed with CDRH in support of continued device development.  For a 510(k), final prototype and/or initial commercial-scale device are produced and tested in an operational environment.  TRL 7 DECISION CRITERION:  Clinical endpoints and test plans agreed to by CDRH.  For a 510(k), information and data demonstrate substantial equivalency to predicate device and use in an operational environment, and support preparation of 510(k).

TRL8. Implementation of clinical trials to gather information relative to the safety and effectiveness of the device. Trials are conducted to evaluate the overall risk-benefit of using the device and to provide an adequate basis for product labeling.  Confirmation of QSR compliance, the design history file, design review, and any master device record, are completed and validated, and device production followed through lot consistency and/or reproducibility studies.  Pre-PMA meeting held with CDRH.  PMA prepared and submitted to CDRH.  Facility PAI (cGMP/QSR/Quality System Regulation (QSIT)) completed.  For 510(k), prepare and submit application.  TRL 8 DECISION CRITERION:  Approval of the PMA [or, as applicable, 510(k)] for device by the CDRH.

TRL9. The medical device may be distributed/marketed. Post marketing studies (nonclinical or clinical) may be required and are designed after agreement with the FDA.  Post marketing surveillance.  TRL 9 DECISION CRITERION:  None – continue surveillance

Setting up a start-up in the EU

If you are thinking of setting up a new company anywhere in the EU, specially if it’s innovation based, the European Commission has a very good online resource with information and contacts to help you do it.
From guidance on IP rights, taxation, regulations to follow, contacts of local business support partners, to EU funding programmes, and a very useful database/map of SMEs funded with EU programmes.

The human dimension of innovation

What are our goals as individuals, as society? What is the ultimate force that drives us to improve our lives and our future, to keep the things that we take for granted? How much are these goals intertwined with our company or our lab goals? It is actually an honest answer to this questions that will help us distill the core strengths of our business plans and strategic agendas, those strengths that will withstand the test of time.

We are humans, specially so when we pursue the quest for knowledge. Our fixations as innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, is on the creation and commercialization of new knowledge and technologies. Technical proficiency and scientific excellence are the foundations of this pillar of innovation. But this is not enough to thrive in the long term. The challenges we face, as individuals and as groups, will often require understanding changing human behaviour, adaptation, leadership, and compassion. As any start-up manager knows, commercializing new technologies requires considerable skill and knowledge in social and artistic areas.  I am talking here of a dimension of the innovation process still not fully understood or fostered, the human dimension. Our motivations and interactions within our team shape the pathway that our enterprises follow, and this has become critical for success as our knowledge based economy becomes more collaborative. We need the artists in our teams, the designers, psychologists, the storytellers, the dancers! We need ourselves, our minds, to be part artists. Not only because it’s fun, but because it allows us to understand and share a common vision with our fellow humans, and drive our long term goals in our companies or labs.