RealLIST Startups 2020 honoree Avisi Technologies, maker of an ocular implant to treat glaucoma, is the recent recipient of a $1 million Small Business Innovation Research Phase II grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) — funds cofounder Rui Jing Jiang said will go toward bringing the startup’s research to life in preclinical work.
The startup, which is based out of the Pennovation Center in Grays Ferry, was founded in 2017 by Jiang and cofounder Brandon Kao. Its product, the VisiPlate, aims to treat open-angle glaucoma with an ocular implant that’s designed to remove excess fluid from inside the eye by releasing pressures that damage the optic nerve.
In 2019, the company was funded via non-dilutive grants and awards including a $225,000 federal government grant from NSF and additional funding from the University of Pennsylvania, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and VentureWell E-Teams, among others. The team has been through programs like the MedTech Innovator Accelerator based in San Francisco, and the UCSF Rosenman Institute startup cohort. It’s also gotten its patent issued and trademark approved.
Now, CEO Jiang told Technical.ly, the new funding from NSF will go toward accelerating the VisiPlate’s development for preclinical work and for manufacturing for future human trials. The grant itself is specifically earmarked for the work that comes before trials start, she said.
“It comes at a really interesting time for us,” Jiang said. “The past year — and well, really each year — we make more and more progress, and it’s a nice culmination of what we’ve done in the last year.”
The team is currently made up of Jiang, Kao and Georgia Griggs, the principal investigator and VP of R&D. They also work with “whatever’s slightly smaller than an army’s” worth of advisors and consultants who are experts in the medical devices field, Jiang said.
The startup has also raised a $550,000 seed round from Philly and California-based investors, which Avisi has not disclosed. Both funding processes began before the pandemic hit the region, Jiang said — the team applied for the SBIR grant back in February.
“When COVID hit, the funding environment changed,” she said. “Some groups we were talking to decided it wasn’t the time to be making investments.”
But eventually, the grant the team received went from $750,000 to $1 million, which she said they’re ultimately grateful for.
As the world has had some time to adjust to pandemic, Jiang said they’re eyeing the next step, which involves her traveling to an ophthalmology facility overseas to observe surgeries. They’re planning a pilot clinical trail for 2021, but the work is outside the scope of the Phase II grant and will be funded by the private investors.
The focus for the rest of the year is on fabricating units for testing, beginning some of SBRI proposal work and getting ready to create “a robust data package to support trials in the future,” Jiang said.