Neurotech Industry Participation Grows at Eighth Annual Neurotech Leaders Forum

Staff report

Attendance topped 100 people for the first time at the 2008 Neurotech Leaders Forum, held in San Francisco October 23-24. The two-day event featured short courses and tutorials on the first day and panel discussions on the second day.

On day one, two neurotechnology Ph.D./M.D.s who each recently sold off a startup firm gave attendees their perspective on the process of raising capital and negotiating deals. NBR senior financial editor Glenn Cornett, who earlier this year sold his hypertension firm Navitas Pharma to Gillead Sciences, advised attendees on how to prepare for meetings with potential investors. Dan DiLorenzo, who founded BioNeuronics Corp. (now NeuroVista), shared some of his war stories getting that company off the ground and also gave a historical outlook on the field of neuroengineering over the last several centuries.
Paul Stypulkowski, senior director of emerging therapies research at Medtronic Neuromodulation, gave attendees his outlook on the future of neuromodulation, including some new DBS therapies coming down the road. Stypulkowski was not reluctant to offer some negative experiences along with his optimistic outlook, including failed trials such as Northstar’s stroke results and Medtronic’s own failure with gastric stimulation acquisition Transneuronix. He also pointed out one roadblock that continues to plague neuromodulation vendors: only 12 percent of neurologists reportedly believe neuromodulation devices are effective, which he attributes at least in part to that specialty’s reluctance to turn over patients to the neurosurgery community.

Dominique Durand from Case Western Reserve University later offered a tutorial on neural interfacing concepts. The day concluded with a panel discussion featuring two clinicians and two users of neurotechnology devices. Graham Creasey, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, and Bianca Clinch, a physical therapist at SCI-FIT in Pleasanton, CA, described some of their neurotech therapies for treating individuals with stroke, spinal cord injury, and other disorders. Jennifer French, executive director of Neurotech Network and an FES user, related experiences frequently encountered by users.

Daniel Dumas, who sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury and uses a Bioness NESS L300 foot-drop stimulator to aid locomotion, said that his experience with the surface stimulation device makes him more likely to consider an implanted system in the future.

On the second day of the forum, keynote speaker Frank Fischer, CEO of NeuroPace Inc., gave his impressions of the state of the neurotech industry and drew comparisons with the cardiac device industry. While other participants had pointed out that neurological devices are considered adjuncts to improved quality of life, rather than extended life, Fischer reminded attendees that many early cardiac stimulation devices were not life or death interventions but therapies that improved quality of life for recipients.

The second day featured panel discussions related to neuromodulation industry issues and technology transfer from research labs to commercial startup firms. Elliot Krames from the International Neuromodulation Society related his organization’s efforts to reach out to new clinical communities, including neurologists. The entrepreneur panel featured presentations from executives of six new and emerging neurotechnology companies. And a new applications panel featured presentations from Ben Pless of Autonomic Technologies, Dominique Durand from Case, and Todd Whitehurst from Boston Scientific Neuromodulation.

A wrap-up panel of venture capital professionals moderated by Bruce Jenett of the law firm DLA Piper elicited viewpoints from financial professionals on the state of the industry.



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