Editor's Spotlight: Startup Focus

Chronic migraine sufferer turns pain into passion with biotech startup

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Metamorworks
Getty | Metamorworks

Related tags Biotechnology Neurology

A doctor, researcher and former chronic migraine sufferer, has launched her own biotech startup company named KetoSwiss selling supplements that she argues can help control migraine pain by tapping into our own biological mechanisms.

Dr Elena Gross, who grew up in Germany, started suffering chronic migraines at the age of 14 but no-one could diagnose the cause for many years until she found out herself over 10 years later.

 “I tried many drugs as well as non-drug approaches and nothing really worked. I was even put on anti-epilepic drugs which gave me dementia-like symptoms. For example, I was out having coffee with a good friend one day and I totally forgot her name and it did not come back for two days. It was really scary.

“I completed my Psychology degree at the University of York despite my migraines becoming chronic. I  had to be left in a quiet and dark room for a substantial number of days each months."

elena gross
Dr Elena Gross

Dr. Gross now describes the worsening of her case as a blessing in disguise. “Since I now couldn’t hold down a normal job anyway, as I required a flexible schedule to find a dark quiet place anytime one of my migraines hit, I was nudged by circumstance to switch to studying neuroscience with an aim towards figuring out what might be causing my condition.​”

That’s when the real work began. Dr. Gross then spent years studying at the Universities of Oxford, Basel, and Cambridge in Europe and Harvard University in the United States, trying to unpack the biological nature of migraines.

Dr. Gross discovered that migraines appear to be caused by a similar biological mechanism to diseases like epilepsy and dementia​.

"In layman terms, the core cause is an inability of the brain to produce energy."

Dr. Gross established this theory in a peer-reviewed article published in Nature Neurology​.

"The human brain can derive energy from two sources: glucose from dietary carbohydrates or “ketone bodies” made by the liver from stored fat during times of carbohydrate scarcity.

"In the developed world, where carbohydrates are ubiquitous and meals are frequent, the brain has the luxury to run purely on glucose sugar. While this sounds like a suitable scenario, chronic exposure to glucose - and the hormonal consequences that follow - can lead to 'dysfunctional glucose metabolism', both in the body and brain.

"This is the cause of the rising prevalence of disease from type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, also known as type III diabetes. I argue in my paper that Migraines are also involve dysfunctional glucose metabolism, and that evidence is now emerging that all of these diseases can be helped by circumventing this dysfunctional glucose metabolism by providing the other fuel - ketone bodies."

Dr Gross explains that while we get glucose from our diets, humans don’t normally consume ketones. Instead, we can generate ketones from stored fat only when carbohydrates are unavailable.

"During human evolution, this adaptation was necessary to feed our big brains when we could not find food. Now, few of us produce ketones. Therefore, to make

keto swiss

 ketones, one must either not eat, or go on a high-fat, extremely low-carb diet called a ketogenic diet. Such diets aren’t very appealing to many, for obvious 

Although Dr. Gross is careful not to discourage the ketogenic diet and has even contributed to a science-based cookbook on how to the diet is the healthiest way possible, she wanted another, easier solution for her fellow 1 billion migraine sufferers across the world.reasons."

And, thus, KetoSwiss was launched in 2017 with the patented product, MirgraKet - a supplement “bioidentical" to the ketones made in the body.

"Other ketone supplements like MCT oils, ketone salts and ketone esters are hindered by their limited ability to actually induce deep ketosis, high salt content, and terrible taste. Furthermore, all pre-existing products only induce ketosis for 3-4 hours, at most.

"Using patented technology, KetoSwiss has developed a fourth generation product that has none of these limitations and we believe it can induce deep ketosis for up to 12 hours!"

The startup company includes an impressive team of staff and advisors including  Matthias Währen, Chief Financial Officer, ex-CFO and member of the Executive Committee of Givaudan SA, and Prof. Dr. Jan Schoenen, Scientific and Clinical Advisor, and former president of the International Headache Society & Belgian Neurological Society, and world expert on metabolism and migraine, with over 908 publications, 92 book chapters and four books

Gross is currently carrying out clinical research on the fourth generation of her product named MigraKet4 while also undertaking a Diploma of Entrepreneurship at the University of Cambridge. She is also working to attain GRAS approval in the US and novel food approval in Europe.

She hopes her supplement will be commercially available by the end of this year, initially as a powder to dissolve in water, then she hopes to develop drink and gummy bear formats.

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