“At the time, the idea that medical devices could be hacked sounded like fiction, but it soon became a global reality.”
It was 2012, and Dr. Anita Finnegan was six months into her PhD on verification of healthcare software in Dundalk, Ireland. Chatting to a colleague during a break at a conference in Germany, their words resonated – ‘at some point in the future, we’re going to be talking about people hacking medical devices.’
That conversation sowed the seed of what would become an important innovation to protect medical devices. Anita would even go on to be invited to assist the US government in writing regulation around the issue, and is now seen as a global expert in the area. She would also commercialise her idea with the support of Enterprise Ireland.
“It was said as almost a joke, but it definitely struck a chord with me. I thought this could be a really innovative space to be in.” She returned home to her studies and a few months later spoke to her PhD supervisor Prof. Fergal McCaffrey about changing her topic to cybersecurity.
First to market in the US in tackling medical device hacking
Fast forward to 2015 and based on her ground-breaking research, Anita became founder and CEO of Nova Leah, a multi-award winning world leader in cybersecurity solutions for medical device manufacturers and healthcare providers. Based in Ireland and now with an office in Boston, USA, the company is targeting the $133bn US medical device market and has customers all over the world. It aims to be a global leader in keeping medical devices safe from hacking.
Nova Leah has been first to market with an intelligent software tool which carries out risk assessments and ensures that manufacturers produce devices that comply with cybersecurity regulations.
“Devices like insulin pumps and even pacemakers can be hacked,” says Anita. “And building in cybersecurity at the product development stage makes them more secure than bolting it on at the end.”
From Ireland – now a world expert in medical device cybersecurity
Ireland proved to be the perfect springboard for Nova Leah when it came to the commercialisation of the idea. “Enterprise Ireland got involved very early on,” says Anita. It took us from research to a point where we were commercially ready and became a High Potential Start Up.
“We spun out of the Regulated Software Research Centre (RSRC), Dundalk Institute of Technology, part of a larger internationally renowned software research centre in the University of Limerick called Lero. We started to raise investment and work very closely with Enterprise Ireland’s Boston team. They’ve been hugely helpful in helping us penetrate the North American market.”
Cybersecurity is dynamic – “it keeps us on our toes”
Nova Leah has been successful in attracting investors and at the end of last year embarked on another fundraising round. “Northwell Health, the largest hospital system in New York State, came on board,” explains Anita. “This is strategically important, as it allows us to expand beyond manufacturers to hospitals.
“We’re piloting a new healthcare provider solution in the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, helping them understand which devices are suitable from a cybersecurity posture perspective for their connected environments. Most of our milestones in the next 12 months are about getting that product into the market.
“The nature of cybersecurity is that it’s continuously evolving. It’s not something static. It’s always going to be dynamic – it keeps us on our toes for sure!”
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