The consumer healthcare entrepreneur with plans to heal the modern world

Arsalan Karim has ambitious plans to make his 21st century digital pharmacy, Clinova, a global success, writes Lizzie Murphy.

Arsalan Karim, director of research and development at Clinova, pictured at Salts Mill.  PICTURE: Gary Longbottom
Arsalan Karim, director of research and development at Clinova, pictured at Salts Mill. PICTURE: Gary Longbottom

Arsalan Karim orders two glasses of water and offers me a choice of lemon or strawberry hydration tablets. I choose lemon and he drops a couple of large round tablets in my drink.

“Two of these tablets in a glass of water equals six glasses of water, based on the World Health Organisation guidelines for hydration,” he tells me as we chat in the second floor cafe at Salts Mill in Shipley.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

The ORS hydration tablets, which are based on a formula of glucose, electrolytes and minerals, were the first product from Karim’s consumer healthcare firm Clinova. Karim, now 38, founded the company with fellow undergraduate pharmacist Charles Ebubedike after they met at Portsmouth University.

“We both wanted to be entrepreneurs and after our first lecture, we said we were going to start a company,” says Karim. “We’ve been business partners and best mates ever since.”

The idea was to create a company that gave patients and consumers information on how to prevent ill health and also created innovative products.

Clinova - a portmanteau word taken from clinical and innovation - started with support from Portsmouth University. These days it has a number of high profile investors.

The company has a free healthcare app, Caidr, which Karim describes as ‘the brains of a doctor and a pharmacist in an app’.

In addition, the company produces four of its own brands at factories in Cheshire and The Netherlands. As well as ORS, it also makes fatigue remover Wayk, Repelscent insect repellant patches and Magastic digestive tablets. There is also a new antibacterial cream in the pipeline.

“One of the things you’ll find with all our products is that the formulation itself is very clean and as natural as we can get it,” Karim says. “ORS has less sugar than a biscuit and less salt than a slice of bread.”

The company, which is listed on the Elite Stock Exchange, plans to reach sales of £40m in the next three to five years.

It has five offices around the world, including Dubai, Bangkok and Toronto, and is about to open its sixth office in India in the next 12 months.

It employs 17 staff in the UK, which is expected to rise to 50 in the next 18 months.

Tottenham Hotspur FC players and medical staff use ORS tablets to help their performance. Clinova has a number of other contracts with companies including Emirates Airlines and the Chilean Navy.

The hydration tablets, which are sold in Boots, Tesco, Holland and Barrett, Ocado, Wiggle and Amazon, as well as international markets, are also popular for those seeking to cure hangovers.

Clinova aim to reach sales of five million ORS packs across the world within the next year.

The company has also caught the eye of major global brands. “I had dinner with the owner of Aston Martin yesterday because he’s heard about the company and he’s interested because we’re doing a partnership with one of their competitors,” says Karim. “It just shows you people are approaching us because they’re fascinated about health mixed with technology.

Clinova’s chairman is John Molter, the former global head of customer sales at Procter and Gamble and chief governance officer is Kim Sanders who helped Vitamin Water become a $3bn company.

One of its largest shareholders is chief strategy officer John Honey who helped to build the Gaviscon and Strepsils brands at Reckitt Benckiser.

The company’s current focus is on its Caidr app and international expansion. It already operates in the UK, UAE, South East Asia, Canada, the US and Europe.

It is about to launch its products in China which, together with the US, is expected to make up 60 per cent of its sales from next year.

The Caidr app helps users assess common medical issues, like an ear infection or a cold, to prevent unnecessary visits to the GP. It recommends the right treatment from a team of pharmacists who are not linked to any brands or companies. You can click the brand and buy the product via the app’s delivery mechanism.

If the algorithm thinks the condition is more serious than a minor ailment, it will advise a GP visit.

The first version had 150,000 users and Karim hopes to achieve two million downloads with version two. “In 2016 there were 57 million GP appointments made for self care conditions you can treat with some basic information and by going to the pharmacy,” he says.

“We’re working with the NHS to see whether we can actually get these people to use our app first, rather than troubling the doctor.”

The company is based in London but it is looking to open a second UK office in Leeds or Manchester to run a pilot initiative with the NHS to connect the Caidr app to the local healthcare system.

“We’re not trying to give you a medical diagnosis, it’s all about giving you that advice for minor ailments and self care,” he says.

Although Clinova has been working on the app for the last seven years, it only launched in January 2018.

The next version of the app will also feature allergy and food intolerance testing. Karim used the app himself after suffering from stomach cramps every six weeks and discovered he had a sweetcorn intolerance. The cramps have now vanished, he says, after he eliminated the vegetable from his diet.

Karim describes himself as a true Yorkshireman. His home is in Shipley but he works in London from Tuesday to Thursday.

He says he always had an interest in healthcare and well being. “When I was a kid I used to cut out newspaper articles about health and stick them on my wall. Now, when I meet CEOs, sometimes I know more about the history of their business than they do from all the information I cut out.”

Karim describes himself as passionate about his work and his hobbies outside work which include antiques and hill walking.

He says he is most proud of successfully creating his vision into a business: “The challenge for us now is to get this company to become a really successful business globally,” he adds.

Fact File

Title: Director of research and development at Clinova

Date of birth: August 14,1980

First job: Trainee pharmacist at Boots in Leeds

Education: Nab Wood Grammar School, Shipley; Pharmacy degree at Portsmouth University and a Masters in therapeutics at St Catherine’s College Oxford University.

Favourite holiday destination: Ubud, Bali

Favourite song: There’s a recent Vance Joy song that I really like.

Favourite film: A Good Year

Last book read: Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon

Car driven: Range Rover Velar

Most proud of: Successfully creating our vision into a company