Véronique Peiffer – Tackling hyperhidrosis
BHF Alumna Véronique Peiffer is a Mechanical Engineer by training. She went on to work in the biofluids group of Spencer Sherwin and Peter Weinberg at Imperial College London, where she received BHF funding. She is now the CEO and co-founder of palmm, a medtech company developing a treatment for hyperhidrosis (or ‘excessive sweating’). She lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
During my BHF-funded PhD I used computational models to better understand the early onset of atherosclerosis. I worked with the same tools as those used for the calculation of airflow around planes, but I used them to understand how blood flows inside arteries.
I really enjoyed this interdisciplinary work. It was based in the aeronautics department, but I worked very closely with bioengineers. When I completed my PhD, I decided to embrace this interdisciplinary approach to solving problems further, and pursued experience in the area of management consultancy.
I knew it was going to be different. I worked for McKinsey & Company, where each project took no longer than two months, so there was a big change in how I had to manage my time. I focused on the pharma and medical device industries, advising large companies on their strategic marketing.
My work there was often driven by the client rather than by me, as was the case in my PhD. In management consultancy, the client expects you to be an expert in the field you’re discussing. But in both the lab and my new role there were always large amounts of information to process in areas about which I knew little, so an interdisciplinary PhD prepared me very well.
I later joined a Fellowship at Stanford University called Biodesign. The programme attracts individuals with prior work experience in engineering, the clinic or business to spend a year identifying and solving clinical unmet needs.
During Biodesign, the fellows observe clinicians and speak to patients while getting exposure to the Silicon Valley medtech community. They see what’s going well, and what isn’t, in the hospital and in clinics, and work out where there’s room for improvements. I focused on a dermatologic condition called hyperhidrosis, and aimed to develop a non-invasive, at-home therapy for those affected by excessive sweat.
Excessive sweating is usually localized to particular parts of the body such as armpits, hands and feet. While the condition can be relatively benign, some cases involve very excessive amounts of sweat that can form puddles. It can have a serious psychological impact on the sufferer. Depression rates are tripled among people who have hyperhidrosis.
It was discovered decades ago that electrotherapy can deactivate sweat glands, but it is not a well-known treatment. The literature suggested that electrotherapy can deactivate sweat glands for about a week at a time, but was not user-friendly. We experimented with different approaches, and eventually pursued the product we are now developing: a mild electrical current to the skin applied through wearable garments.
We have now completed a study to show that the product is working. The next milestone will involve more testing, and will determine how user-friendly our product is to ensure it will be used more than previous technologies.
The key to leading a successful biomedical start-up is to understand how each part of the project informs and develops the business as a whole. My experience as a BHF researcher, a McKinsey & Co consultant and a Biodesign fellow are now culminating to contribute to the success of palmm.
I would love, one day, to apply my skills to cardiovascular research, where the scope for international and interdisciplinary collaboration has never been more required, nor more accessible.
Through networks like BHF Alumni, knowledge-sharing across a diverse range of sectors has the potential to improve the way scientists can work with one another.