Entrepreneurs and Executives Interact at 13th Annual Neurotech Leaders Forum

by Daniel Toker, assistant editor

About 80 executives, entrepreneurs, researchers, and financial professionals attended the 2013 Neurotech Leaders Forum, held in San Francisco earlier this month.

The first day of the event was devoted to implantable neurotechnology systems. Keynote speaker Danny Sachs offered attendees insight into promoting neurotech innovation. He emphasized connecting concepts from different disciplines and generating many new ideas. Because of the high failure rate of neurotech companies, Sachs suggested that generating many ideas increases the chances that some companies will prove successful.

Peter Crosby from Mainstay Medical discussed a new implantable medical device called ReActiv8, which is intended to treat chronic lower back pain by stimulating the nerves that drive the multifidus muscle. The product will target large markets with quickly available reimbursement.

Daniel Pivonka of EnteroWave described a gastrointestinal stimulation treatment for metabolic syndrome that can replicate the therapeutic effect of a gastric bypass. The stimulation would be delivered by a miniaturized, minimally invasive, and wirelessly powered implant.

Viket Medical’s Bob Wilcox introduced an innovative clot-monitoring technique to be used during surgery for intracerebral hemorrhage. Viket offers a technology that uses ultrasound to monitor craniotomy evacuation, which has proven successful in preclinical testing.

In a session on the market for neurorehabilitation, Jennifer French of Neurotech Network discussed the categories of current neural rehabilitation devices as well as distribution channels for those devices, including traditional hospital settings, beyond therapy extension programs, specialty boutique programs, and direct at-home consumer use. Chris Castel of Accelerated Care Plus analyzed the market for neurorehabilitation devices. At home-use of these devices represents a large market, but high-price initial sales to rehabilitation centers “box in” pricing levels. Channel marketing and distribution challenges for these devices include the time and expense involved in setting up direct sales forces and the difficulty of finding sales forces with channel power that can market new product concepts.

Evan Rosenfeld of MDJD Consulting offered advice for speeding up clinical trials. Most clinical trials take longer than expected, often due to holdups at the outset of research. The factors that most often cause delays are contract and budget negotiation and approval, patient recruitment and enrollment, protocol design, legal review, and IRB review and approval. Rosenfeld recommended increasing the restrictiveness of inclusion/exclusion criteria to reduce how long it takes to recruit subjects. When it comes to site and investigator selection, he advised reviewing how long it has taken that site and/or investigator in the past to finish various aspects of clinical trials. He further suggested cash incentives for the development of efficient study designs, asking for input and ideas from patients, leveraging new technologies like telemedicine and electronic data management, and monitoring to ensure the study progresses at an appropriate rate.

The second day of the conference was largely devoted to consumer-oriented and non-invasive applications. Victor Pikov of Huntington Medical Research Institutes talked about the public’s changing attitudes toward wearable electronics, citing the large increase in at-home diagnostic, health monitoring, and treatment wearable devices. He suggested that the average consumer is becoming increasingly receptive to noninvasive neurotechnology.

Neural Signals’ Philip Kennedy discussed the work his company is doing to decode neural signals from patients with locked-in syndrome. His company uses the neurotrophic electrode, which Kennedy invented, to decode phonemes from neural signals. The phonemes are then strung together into understandable English words.

In a session on the market for neurosensing systems, Cleveland Medical’s Robert Schmidt mentioned two factors that create a market for medical devices: people’s desire to improve their health and the reduced cost of using machinery over human labor. He then reviewed some technologies developed by Cleveland Medical.

Alan Braswell of Magneceutical Health presented on the Magnesphere, a whole body magnetic resonance therapy that produces a relaxation response that can potentially help a variety of ailments. It has been used in clinical trials in Parkinson’s, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia patients, and pre-clinical trials are under way to study its effectiveness in atrial fibrillation, wound healing, angina, and motor neuropathy. Braswell proposed a number of pricing models for both clinical and at-home units. With their pricing model, Magneceutical Health could expect to see increasing profits for the clinical units in the next four years, and, although their at-home units would lead to initial deficits, they would also yield profits within three years.

A number of speakers discussed consumer-oriented wearable neurotechnology devices. Greg Hyver of NeuroSky and Tony Gaitatzis of Personal Neuro Devices considered various possible applications of at-home EEG headset as well as trends like the Quantified Self movement that might facilitate consumer adoption of EEG headsets. Applications of these devices could include brain health monitoring, emotional monitoring, and gaming. Rad Roberts from the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering reviewed the Center’s development of closed-loop neural-interactive systems that might restore function and mobility to people with motor deficits. Brain Resource’s Evian Gordon discussed brain-training software that leads to demonstrated improvements in thinking, emotional processing, feeling, and self-regulation.

The conference concluded with a discussion led by Jennifer French and Philip Kennedy on “last resort syndrome,” which refers to the tendency to consider neurotechnological intervention as a last resort in treatment and therapy. The panel concluded that an attitude change is required, because using neurotechnology earlier in the treatment process can reduce spending and improve patients’ prognoses.

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