Pioneer in “a new class of medicine”

Pioneer in “a new class of medicine”

Dr Yusuf Sherwani has put his medical training on hold to develop a hi-tech way of helping people stop smoking.

Yusuf (OE 2003–2010) combined his love of computing with his medical expertise to produce Quit Genius, an app which aims to make therapy for people trying to give up tobacco more cost-effective and scalable.

“Quit Genius became a passion during medical school after I saw how difficult it was for clinicians to prescribe effective behavioural therapy that could help people change their habits to help prevent disease.” In an interview with the American technology magazine, Wired, he explained that the problem with the face-to-face support often used to help patients stop smoking is that it is simply not financially sustainable. “We’re replacing the patient/therapist relationship with the patient and an app.”

Quit Genius is among a number of start-ups seeking to demonstrate that “supportive… treatment can be as effective as reaching for your phone”, the article explained.

The app has been developed by Yusuf’s company, Digital Therapeutics, of which he is CEO. It is being helped by a partnership, Velocity Health, set up by two large players in the fields of technology and healthcare, namely Wayra UK (which is, in turn, part of Telefónica) and Merck Sharp & Dohme UK (MSD). Velocity Health is an ‘accelerator’ for innovative healthcare solutions. In addition to the backing from Velocity Health, Quit Genius has also attracted support from angel investors.

Imran Hamid, chief commercial discovery for MSD, told Wired: “We’re witnessing the birth of digital therapeutics as a class of medicine in its own right.”

Yusuf has just graduated as a doctor from Imperial College School of Medicine, but has opted to pause his clinical training to focus on Quit Genius.

“I probably discovered my entrepreneurial streak during my time at QE,” he recalls. I started my first online start-up whilst in Year 9, creating a network of online bulletin boards which quickly amassed millions of monthly visitors, before selling the business in Year 11.”

In the Sixth Form, Yusuf asked to study Computing, which the School had not previously offered as an A-level. “I’ll always admire the fact that QE agreed to create a class for just three of us who wanted to study the subject!

“During that time, I also founded a consumer electronics e-commerce platform which relied on importing high-end audio equipment from China with a friend and contemporary at QE, Zainul Dhalla, which I carried on working on during my gap year. Zainul subsequently studied Law at Cambridge and is now a Senior Product Manager at a high-growth tech startup in London.

“The project was actually very successful for a number of years, helping us pay our way through university. However, eventually, we found it too gruelling an experience to juggle Medicine and Law respectively with a growing business and took the joint decision to wind it down. Several other start-ups have subsequently copied the same model and have been successfully operating for a number of years.”

Reflecting on his life so far, Yusuf adds this: “I’ll simply say that there’s light at the end of the tunnel for those who don’t make prefect!”