Neurotech Leaders Forum Attendees Discuss “Next Cardio” Market

Staff Report

Attendees at the 2005 Neurotech Leaders Forum in San Francisco heard from a number of entrepreneurs, researchers, and financial professionals in the neurotechnology field October 20-21, many of whom compared the growth of the neuro device market to that of the cardiac device industry. Total attendance at the two-day event was 78.

Keynote speaker Alan Levy, founder and CEO of Northstar Neuroscience, has been an entrepreneur in both industries. He said that the neurotech industry is now at the point where cardio devices were 20 years ago. Levy described Northstar’s opportunity in the cortical stimulation market to treat stroke-related disorders, including aphasia and hemiparesis.

The conference began with two short courses on the afternoon of October 20. In one track, Neurotech Business Report senior technical editor Warren Grill from Duke University gave a tutorial on neurostimulation technologies. In a parallel track, NBR senior financial editor Glenn Cornett gave a tutorial on obtaining venture capital funding. Zack Lynch from NeuroInsights followed with an overview of the neuropharmacology industry, and NBR editor James Cavuoto concluded the day with an overview of the market for neurotechnology devices, including new market projections from a forthcoming market research report The Market for Neurotechnology: 2006-1010.

After the keynote address on day two of the event, Joe Pancrazio from the National Institutes of Health described how the federal government is helping to develop neural interface technology that has commercial potential. Other panelists on the “Role of Government” panel included Gail Schechter from BioIntelligence and Jeff Newman from the state of California. Schechter gave attendees advice for obtaining grants and Newman urged entrepreneurs to investigate regional associations such as BayBio, SoCalBio, BIOCOM, and CHI.
A panel entitled “Serving the User” featured two advocates from the disability community, Jennifer French of the Neurotech Network, and Gary Karp, editor of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association newspaper SCI Life.

During an entrepreneur panel on October 21, founders and CEOs of five young neurotechnology companies described their firms’ technology and market opportunities. Of the five, Andara Life Science, Inc. of Indianapolis, IN, which is commercializing a spinal stimulation system for neural regrowth, was voted most likely to obtain VC funding by a “jury” of venture capital professionals present at the meeting. Andara CEO Mark Carney described the company’s oscillating field stimulator device, which is targeted at the sub-acute spinal cord injury market. A combination therapy using the device and neurotrophic factors is in development for the chronic SCI market.

The other four presenters on the entrepreneur panel were K.C. Fadem, founder and COO of Neuronetrix, Inc. in Louisville, KY, Elisabeth Hager, CEO of GentCorp in Lancaster, NY, Daryl Kipke, CEO of NeuroNexus Technologies in Ann Arbor, MI, and Souhile Assaf, founder and CEO of Medtrode Inc. in London, ON. Assaf described his company’s market opportunity with its multifunctional DBS electrodes, which can be used both for stimulation and sensing. Medtrode intends to sell leads on an OEM basis to DBS system manufacturers, but also has designed a trans-cranial implanted pulse generator that makes full use of the company’s electrode.

Fadem introduced the audience to Neuronetrix’s neurosensing technology for diagnosing language learning disorders in children and infants. Hager spoke of the opportunity for power supplies designed specifically for implanted neurostimulation devices. The company was founded by medical device pioneer Wilson Greatbatch, but bears no relationship with Greatbatch Inc., the nearby manufacturer of power supplies previously founded and then sold off by Mr. Greatbatch.
NeuroNexus was spun off from the University of Michigan last year. CEO Daryl Kipke described the company’s implantable microprobes, which are targeted at both clinical and research ­markets.

In a session devoted to new technologies, John McDonald from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University described how his restorative therapy approach represents a “sea change” in neurorehabilitation and offers new promise to individuals with spinal cord injury.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion with several representatives of venture capital firms active in the neuro space, each of whom offered their take on the most promising areas of neurotech.



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