New Neurotech Initiatives Boost SCI Market Potential
by James Cavuoto, editor
October 2019 issue
The neurotech market for treating paralysis caused by spinal cord injury took a major step forward this month with two significant announcements, one in the commercial arena and another involving funding.
On the commercial side, GTX medical BV, the European firm spun off from the research of Gregoire Courtine at EPFL, announced it has merged with NeuroRecovery Technologies, the Los Angeles firm spun off from Reggie Edgerton’s research at UCLA. The merged entity keeps the name GTX medical. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation will be a shareholder in the merged company, alongside current investors including LSP, Inkef, Wellington Partners, and GIMV.
The merged company is developing a therapy called targeted epidural spine stimulation, an implantable SCS system with real-time lower limb motion feedback. This system is in late-stage development and has been shown to restore locomotion in a some people living with incomplete SCI. A second, noninvasive product offering—transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation—is being developed to improve arm and hand function. Unclear at this point is whether Edgerton and Susan Harkema, another key investigator involved with epidural stimulation for SCI, will join the new firm. Edgerton has launched another firm, SpineX, to pursue SCI neurorehabilitation, although rights to patents developed by Edgerton and UCLA and Harkema and University of Louisville that were assigned to NRT now belong to GTX. In an interview with NBR, GTX CEO Sjaak Deckers expressed optimism that NRT’s scientific team would stay on with GTX. “The researchers in this field have a moral responsibility to stop their fighting,” he said, though he acknowledged that scientific disputes can often help move a field forward.
NRT’s former CEO Nick Terrafranca will head up business development for the GTX. “Bringing our two companies together was the best thing that could have happened for the technology and the SCI community,” he said.
“Neurostimulation represents the single biggest breakthrough ever in creating dramatic functional recovery in patients living with SCI. With the support of the Reeve Foundation, the first worldwide organization in SCI history will be established,” commented Jay Shepard, board member of NRT.
On the research side, DARPA earlier this month unveiled a new SCI program called Bridging the Gap Plus, which combines neurotechnology, artificial intelligence, and biological sensors. It opens the possibility of overcoming the worst effects of SCI by promoting healing at the wound site and interfacing with the nervous system at points around the body to restore natural functions such as breathing, bowel and bladder control, movement, touch, and proprioception that can be lost when the spinal cord is damaged. BG+ will encompass all phases of the injury and it is open to regenerative therapy, neural diagnostics and functional restoration of SCI.
DARPA has already awarded $6.3 million to a team led by Brown University’s David Borton to develop and test an “intelligent spinal interface” aimed at helping restore limb movement and bladder control for people with SCI.
Developed in collaboration with physicians at Rhode Island Hospital along with commercial partners at Intel and Micro-Leads Medical, the experimental spinal interface will be designed to bridge the gap in neural circuitry afflicted by a spinal injury. The idea is to record signals traveling down the spinal cord above an injury site and use them to drive electrical spinal stimulation below the lesion. At the same time, information coming up the cord from below the injury will be used to drive stimulation above the injury.
The device could potentially help to restore both volitional control of limbs as well as sensation lost due to injury. The project will make use of a high-resolution spinal cord stimulation technology developed by Micro-Leads, called HD64.
“For many years, spinal cord stimulators have led to unpredictable clinical outcomes due to an inherent difficulty with localizing therapy to only the parts of the body that need it,” said Bryan McLaughlin, founder and CEO of Micro-Leads Medical. “We developed HD64 to provide a two-times increase in the number of therapy locations and greater pinpointing accuracy without changing the implantable device size or number of wires.”