ExoAtlet, a resident startup of the Skolkovo Foundation that makes medical exoskeletons to help disabled people walk, has received official registration as medical equipment for its systems.

ExoAtlet pilot Sergei Rubinshtein walks with his wife Galina at their church wedding in Arkhangelsk last week. Photo: Corporation for the Development of the Arkhangelsk Region press service.

The step means that the exoskeletons can now be bought and used by both clinics and individuals.

“Getting certified registration for us is the shot from the starting pistol that signals the start of the long-distance run,” Ekaterina Bereziy, co-founder and CEO of ExoAtlet, told Sk.ru.

“We expect sales across all of Russia and to take part in clinical trials to develop new medical standards in the rehabilitation of patients with brain and spinal injuries and multiple sclerosis. As a result, tariffs will be introduced in Russia for the treatment of these patients using exoskeletons as instruments of roboticised mechanotherapy [in which cells are mechanically stimulated],” she said.

In another milestone for the young company, on July 15, a man in the northern city of Arkhangelsk used ExoAtlet’s system to walk down the aisle for his own wedding, after an accident nearly a decade ago left him unable to walk on his own.

Sergei Rubinshtein, 42, is one of more than 20 “pilots,” as users of the exoskeletons are known, to have been practicing walking with the system since it was introduced in clinical trials in the northern city this spring.

Rubinshtein married his wife Galina in a civil ceremony many years ago, but they decided to repeat their vows in an Orthodox church ceremony.

“Today our family has become stronger thanks to the sacrament of the church service,” Rubinshtein was quoted as saying on the website of the Corporation for the Development of the Arkhangelsk Region, an investment vehicle.

“We want to show families in difficult situations that they should not be embarrassed about turning to God,” he said, explaining that his family had helped him overcome all the difficulties created by his accident in 2007.

“I hope that with the help of modern rehabilitation devices, I can walk upright to a café with my wife and daughter and walk along the waterfront,” he was quoted as saying.

On July 1, three days after the company obtained its registration, a new stage of clinical research using the exoskeletons began at the Pirogov National Medical and Surgical Centre in Moscow. The research, which is being carried out with the help of a grant from the Skolkovo Foundation, will focus on 24 volunteers with spinal injuries that have limited their abilities to walk but who are not completely paralysed. The research’s aims include a comparative analysis of exoskeletons with classical methods of roboticised mechanotherapy already used in the rehabilitation process. Foreign-made roboticised equipment is available in some Russian clinics, but is extremely expensive, making it unavailable for most people.

ExoAtlet pilots demonstrate the exoskeleton's capabilities. Photo: Sk.ru.

Twelve of the pilots will take a course of 12 training sessions using the ExoAtlet systems with functional electric muscle stimulation and individual movement therapy. The other 12 will take a course using standard methods of mechanotherapy and individual movement therapy. Both treatment courses will last for 15 days.

ExoAtlet, which grew out of a joint project between Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry and a team of scientists from Moscow State University, also plans to develop its presence on foreign markets, but needs major investment to do so, and is accordingly currently looking for a co-investor. Along with the Skolkovo Foundation, the Russian Venture Company Biofund and Moscow Seed Fund have also invested in the company.

“ExoAtlet made the journey from prototype to sales in record time for this kind of project: less than two years,” said Albert Yefimov, head of Skolkovo’s Robocentre.

“It’s clear that such an achievement on an international scale was only possible thanks to coordinated support from all the development institutes.”

Skolkovo’s role was not limited to financial support, he added.

“We helped the team with technical expertise, and ExoAtlet was also allocated room in the Robocentre’s Hackspace lab, which helped the company to finish the development of key elements of the exoskeleton’s control system on time,” said Yefimov.

ExoAtlet won 900,000 rubles (about $14,000) at Skolkovo’s annual Startup Village in 2014, and became a resident of the foundation that same year. In November last year, the foundation approved a grant of 50 million rubles ($793,000) for the second stage of development of ExoAtlet.

Yegor Beketov, director of the Russian Venture Company Biofund, said that getting registration was the beginning of a new stage in the company’s development, as Russia’s first exoskeleton is now available for people with limited mobility.

“We’re glad that the joint efforts of the [ExoAtlet] team and investors have helped the company launch a product of which thousands of Russians have need,” he said. “I won’t be surprised if before the year is out, we see the first owners [of the exoskeletons] on the streets of our country’s cities.”

ExoAtlet is also supported by the Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI), which since December 2015 has been helping to organize clinical research for the exoskeletons in the Arkhangelsk, Novosibirsk, Sverdlovsk and Ulyanovsk regions, as well as the development of serial production, with the aim of decreasing the cost for the end user.

Svetlana Chupsheva, director of social projects at the ASI, said her department was working both on getting the regions involved in clinical trials, as well as explaining the importance of regional rehabilitation clinics purchasing the exoskeletons.

“It’s important to remember that higher demand and subsequent increased production will lead to the cost of the equipment decreasing, and then individuals will be able to buy it,” said Chupsheva.

In a recent interview with RBC magazine, Bereziy said that her company expects to sell 100-150 exoskeletons next year.