Creative

Jul. 18, 2011 11:00 am

Vascular Magnetics, a startup, spawns out of Children’s Hospital

Updated Tue., July 19: Updated in response to comment from Woodward: “We don’t use a stent coated with medicine – we use a temporary, catheter-borne targeting device made of the superparamagnetic steel. In the magnetic field, this device develops gradients which force the drug-loaded nanoparticles into the arterial wall. The nanoparticles are delivered through the […]

Updated Tue., July 19: Updated in response to comment from Woodward: “We don’t use a stent coated with medicine – we use a temporary, catheter-borne targeting device made of the superparamagnetic steel. In the magnetic field, this device develops gradients which force the drug-loaded nanoparticles into the arterial wall. The nanoparticles are delivered through the same catheter that carries the targeting device,” he wrote in an email.

Folks with Peripheral Artery Disease, a circulation disorder that affects more than 27 million older adults in North America and Europe, often have pain involved with simple tasks such as walking.

Stent-based solutions that treat the disease, which force open arteries and release medicines into the passageways to prevent reblockage, are only temporary. The treatments allow reblockage to occur in about 50 percent of cases after the first year.

But a startup company spun out of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says it has created a new system of treatment that does a better job, and might have a future in stem cell research.

Using superparamagnetic steel stents, an applied magnetic field forces drug-loaded nanoparticles onto the arterial wall. The company says that reblockage can be prevented for three to four years instead of one.

Vascular Magnetics‘ CEO Dick Woodward and Chief Scientist Dr. Robert Levy describe their new treatment using an analogy of chicken wire and spray paint.

Current treatment is like coating wire with spray paint and pressing it against a wall. Only a thin layer of medicine is applied with the current treatment. But the solution brought to the table by Vascular Magnetics is like placing the chicken wire against a wall and spray painting over it. Medicine is more applied more widely.

The process has even received ink in Forbes for being a “promising distruptive technology.”

Levy, who works in University City amidst the rapidly developing medical district at the Abramson Research Building, has been researching gene delivery stents at CHOP with a grant from the National Health Service. He says that magnetic delivery has held a lot of interest in the health community.

Originally, as he began to percolate the idea of magnetically delivered medicines, he saw potential in treating coronary artery disease. But the market is saturated, he says. “The coronary stent market is perceived as being very successful. The companies involved are gigantic organizations and to try to compete would be impossible,” Levy says.

It’s a strange conversation, one focused on business, to be had in a hospital research center.

But it’s the after effect of a partnership put together by the University City Science Center‘s QED Proof-of-Concept program, which helps life sciences researchers pair up with business advisors to bring a proof of concept to market.

After Levy met Woodward — who has a science background himself but has been focused on the business side of the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries, having been involved with 14 early-stage biotech companies — the two formed the company and decided to try to solve peripheral artery disease treatment, a smaller market but one with more opportunity, instead.

The startup is a first for the hospital. The press release headline from the Science Center was teeming with emphasis on CHOP’s inaugural spun-out company. And Woodward and Levy say that CHOP is “fully behind” the startup, even contributing resources to create the first prototype. The company and CHOP spent a year negotiating a contract.

“The reason they haven’t done it [in the past],” Levy says, “is mostly related to the conservative nature of the institution and its board of directors,” he says.

Both men own a majority stake in Vascular Magnetics. Though CHOP owns the technology rights, VM holds an exclusive license.

The company was funded by the QED program in May of last year, and was provided a $100,000 award that was matched by CHOP.

Now, the company is hoping to find a follow-on investment and hopes to exit by being acquired, likely by a company that produces stents. “The faster we can get investment, the faster we can get to commercialization, and longer the acquirerer will have on the patent life,” Woodward says.

The team champions the Science Center’s QED program. In the medical world, “The odds don’t favor startups, but it important to have institutions that will support startup concepts because this is where innovation is coming from,” Levy says.

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Brian James Kirk

Brian James Kirk is a cofounder of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Kirk was Web Editor of PlanPhilly, an independent online news resource covering planning and development issues in Philadelphia, and a freelance writer and designer. He resides in South Philadelphia.

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