Q&A with Laing Rikkers, Co-Founder and Executive Chair of ProSomnus Sleep Technologies (Episode 2)

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your role as Co-founder and Executive Chair at ProSomnus Sleep Technologies?

My name is Laing Rikkers and I am a full-time employee as the Executive Chairman of the company – I guess we say Executive Chair now! ProSomnus is a leading CPAP alternative for the treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). I work closely with the senior leadership team on strategy, financing, building out the organization, and co-ordinating with the rest of the Board. It is a pleasure to get to work with the team and watch the company grow.

What innovative technologies or advancements do you believe will have the biggest impacts in the Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) market in the next few years?

Our perspective is that the ProSomnus’s EVO product is the most significant industry game changer over the next few years. Clinicians have been looking for an effective, scalable, and patient-prefered solution to CPAP for many years. EVO is clinically proven to be effective for 94% patients with mild or moderate OSA. The Company’s growth of 48% year over year in the first half 2023 is a direct reflection of the growing acceptance of EVO.

In an ever-evolving market, how do you ensure ProSomnus stays ahead of competitors and remains relevant in meeting patient needs?

The primary input comes from clinicians. We spend a lot of time with customers talking to them about the products that we’re developing, their needs, short-comings of other products, and feedback from their patients.

There is no way to cure Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), so finding a treatment for each patient that they are willing to adhere to every night for the rest of their life is critical. Clinicians want treatment delivery to be as easy as possible so they can minimize the number of visits from patients, and they want their patients to be comfortable and happy.

We have events where we get customers together multiple times a year and get their input on recent product launches. We also get their feedback on the new products in our pipeline to get their thoughts on how to prioritize them and make sure that we get it right when we launch.

Can you share any exciting projects or initiatives ProSomnus are currently working on?

Certainly. Our most exciting project is the RPMO2 device.  It will remotely monitor patients’ oxygen levels which will give clinicians key data that they do not have curently.

We are also excited about several clinical trials that are going on that are very important. One is a head-to-head study against Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This is being done at the UZA Hospital in Antwerp and the final data will be delivered at ProSleep in August 2023. The preliminary data looks fantastic and shows ProSomnus is non-inferior to CPAP and should be considered as a frontline therapy.

We are also enrolling in a study right now for severe obstructive sleep apnea in the US. We plan to seek expanded indications from FDA which would make ProSomnus devices the only oral devices with a severe clearance.

What is your most notable achievement or success stories since founding ProSomnus in 2016?

It was exciting to take the company public in December 2022. It was a moment of getting everyone together, celebrate what we’ve accomplished, and take the company to the next level.

On an ongoing basis, helping so many people live longer, healthier lives is extremely gratifying. We’ve now treated more than 200,000 patients with an excellent safety record, and studies show patients prefer their devices over other alternatives. Having an impact on public health is one of the successes I am most proud of.

ProSleep is a sell-out! What should we expect to see from this year’s event compared to 2022?

We are building upon last year and the clinical content continues to strengthen. As I mentioned, we will be hearing about the head-to-head study against CPAP, and we’ll be hearing about the severe sleep apnea trial and hypoxic burden.

The industry has historically diagnosed patients with something they call an AHI score (Apnea Hypopnea Index) and the industry is shifting away from that to a new term they’re calling Hypoxic Burden so there’s going to be a session on that. AHI is how many times one stops breathing in a period, whereas Hypoxic Burden measures the drop in oxygen which is what does the cardiac damage. AHI was a proxy early on for the oxygen dropping because there weren’t easy ways to measure it and now there are much better ways. The technology has evolved and we’re excited because our new product will support this.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur in the OSA industry?

Prior to joining ProSomnus, I spent about 20 years in private equity investing in orthopaedic and dental device companies. I have experience with small companies developing strategies and building teams. Len Liptak and Sung Kim and I worked together on another project and identified this opportunity and came together to focus on it and still believe it’s one of the biggest opportunities in MedTech. The market is huge, the existing incumbent therapies are flawed, and the need for a scalable, patient-preferred, safe and effective product was just calling out to us. We are very grateful the clinical data is supporting the vision and that we’re able to continue to innovate and develop the sector.

Have you faced any challenges or biases as a female leader? If so, how have you navigated these hurdles?

Early in my career, being a young woman in business, I had to work a little bit harder to get credibility. I had some of the same kind of challenges that many women face. That’s changed in my current environment. I am extremely lucky to work with Len, Sung, our board, and the rest of our team; they’re great partners. I feel very supported.

What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?

Finding the right team to work with, ensuring the people have the same values for example, high integrity, and consistency (people who don’t jump around a ton!). You have to have a good team. In addition, you need differentiated product. And finally, you need access to funding that will allow it to come to pass. Those are the keys in my mind, and you want to make sure you’ve got all those pieces in place.

Young companies have a lot of challenges – it’s difficult. I suggest that you make sure that you have it in you to stick it out when it gets tough. It might look glamourous from the outside but it’s a lot of hard work and some of it’s not glamourous at all. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and be tenacious and creative. For people who have that in them, it’s extraordinarily rewarding. I always say it’s like having another child! When you have a young company, it’s not 9-5. You think about it all the time, every day, even when you’re on vacation, and that’s not for everybody. It’s important to be realistic assessing both the demands and rewards.

As well as Co-Founder & Executive Chair at ProSomnus, you’re also the Author of Amazon’s #1 New Release book! What was your inspiration behind writing “Morning Leaves”, and what impact do you hope it has on your readers?

Morning Leaves was inspired by the loss of my younger sister who died very unexpectedly in December of 2019 in atrial fibrillation. Ironically, she had untreated OSA. I had been talking to her, trying to get her to see a doctor and unfortunately I didn’t get to her in time.

The book came out of the grieving process that I went through which co-incidentally was during the pandemic, during lockdown. It was a particularly poignant moment in history. I was home in southern California and I did a lot of walking and writing. The book contains art and poetry and some of the lessons I found useful in moving through grief or any kind of loss.

It also has a section on OSA education which is one of the things I’m spending a lot of my time working on. I am trying to educate people to be aware of what the signs and symptoms are, and what to do if you think you might have OSA or if someone you love might have it. My hope is that what happened to my family doesn’t happen to other families. Obstructive sleep apnea impacts an estimated 1 billion people globally and 80% are undiagnosed, there are so many people who are unaware. In the US we have Katie Couric who’s out talking about Colon cancer; there isn’t a high profile voice that is speaking out about OSA and the seriousness of it, so I’m doing my best to get out there.

A little bird saw on your LinkedIn profile you previously worked at “The Walt Disney Company”. If you were a Disney character, who would you be and why?

This is a tricky question! I guess I would be Wendy in Peter Pan. I say that because Wendy was enticed by the little bit of magic and adventure, and was literally pulled out her window to go explore; I feel like I have a bit of that in me. But ultimately, Wendy became the mother-figure and took care of the boys and I tend to play that sort of a role in my personal life (I am a Mom) and professionally I oversee a team.

What is at the top of your bucket list?

Definitely something travel related – I think a trip to New Zealand to see the natural beauty and explore the outdoors. Hopefully I’ll get to do that sometime soon!

As a child, what did you dream of becoming as an adult?

I had a lot of different dreams at different stages. The one that lasted the longest was I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. I spent my high school summers going to a marine biology camp in the Florida Keys. I did a lot of scuba diving and academic programmes where I was able to do hand-on research. It was what initially got me enthusiastic about science.

And lastly, who would be your 3 dream dinner party guests?

Krista Tippett – She has a podcast that I love called OnBeing that explores spirituality and what it means to be human. Particularly having gone through the pandemic and grief; I would love to hear what’s she’s learned from all the people she’s had the chance to speak to.

Melinda French Gates – I am very inspired by her public health work and most recently her support of women around the world and trying to ensure equal rights for women. She has such a global perspective.

Ariana Huffington – As a writer and a public figure, and someone who’s been successful at getting messages out, I would be interested to understand her perspective on what’s effective. She is also very passional about the the importance of sleep, so we’d have a lot to discuss.

Finally, if you let me have one more, I’d throw in Taylor Swift, why not – I’m sure she’d be fun!

Interviewed by Hattie Wilcox, Medtech Partner – Kapia

Connect with Hattie on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hattie-wilcox/

Follow Kapia on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/kapia-io/

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