Neurotech Industry Veterans and Newcomers Attend 19th Leaders Forum in SF
by Jennifer French, senior editor
About 120 neurotechnology professionals from industry, research, investment, and clinical fields gathered for the 19th annual Neurotech Leaders Forum in San Francisco earlier this month. Discussions ensued from current trends, recent opportunities, and on-going challenges. One of the highlights of this event is the exchange of new ideas and the dialogue with neurotech entrepreneurs.
The keynote speakers this year each spoke of finding clues in the human nervous system—but from different perspectives. Josh Makower of New Enterprise Associates delivered his message through the lens of an M.D. and investor. The placebo effect can be a clue that neuromodulation can have a clinical effect and help to steer discoveries for the next neuromodulation treatment area, he said. Robert Knight of UC Berkeley crafted his message around the research he and his colleagues are conducting to further understand the intricacies of the human brain. “What glues perception and action together? The frontal cortex.” He continues with this case by showing data from theta activity for working memory, intracranial recordings for mind wandering, and brain wave oscillations for productive sleep.
Several discussion panels during the two-day event brought to light key issues in the neurotech marketplace. A panel focusing on noninvasive neurotechnologies moderated by Neurotech Reports’ Jeremy Koff covered the need for solid scientific basis for noninvasive devices. Dan Chao of Halo Neuroscience stated, “We did a literature search and looked at all the indications that had the most support [for tDCS]. We saw the motor cortex.” Jennifer Ernst of Tivic Health said that “the preponderance of a body of evidence made it the right time for us. It wasn’t a hassle to get through the FDA as all.” Dan Powell of start-up Spark Biomedical weighed in that they “stumbled on this type of electro-acupuncture stimulation, which was working for addiction.” For each of these entrepreneurs, the scientific evidence drove the case for their business. The topic also surfaced during the closing panel as industry pioneer Elliot Krames stated, “I am dedicating the last 10 years of my life to the basic science of neuromodulation.”
During a panel focusing on clinical trials and how to avoid some of the failures of the past, Bob Greenberg of the Alfred Mann Foundation and formerly of Second Sight advised attendees to figure out the key end points and to spend time with the targeted community to help understand meaningful outcomes. Erika Ross from Abbott Neuromodulation echoed this sentiment stating, “We are not good at talking about patients and patient engagement.”
The advice from Jonathan Sackier of Helius Medical was to use the collected data for alternative purposes like health economics as well as to address trial recruitment as it can be one of the toughest aspects for clinical trial organizers. He also advised to “read the guidance from the FDA then go have a martini.”
Closed-loop systems are an emerging trend in the neurotechnology industry and can be viewed as a mechanism to make more informed decisions in areas of location and dosing of stimulation. The discussions in this area intertwined topics throughout the conference. Dan Brounstein of Saluda Medical stated that they are “trying to solve the problem of the variability in the cord.” On the topic of the future of spinal cord stimulation, Lawrence Poree weighed in that the future of neuromodulation will be closed-loop systems and Nick Langhals from NIH agreed that we can use “biomarkers to target therapies.” On the other hand, Paul Meadows, formerly of ImThera Medical, pushed back with “closed-loop sounds like it would be the solution for everything but it’s not. Sometimes it just adds more complexity.”
The Neurotech Leaders Forum would not be complete without input from the financial community. The panel on this topic included Mike Edelhart of Joyance Partners, John Kim of Aphelion Capital, and Stephanie Fertig from the NIH and as moderated by James Childs from Maynard Venture Partners. Fertig directed entrepreneurs to the NIH various programs to support translational efforts and the resources within the small business support offices. Kim gave his perspective as both a practicing clinician and investor as it affords his understanding of what patients are experiencing in the clinic. “I look for technologies to address the pain points,” he said. He also looks at how companies acquire their first five to 10 customers. Edelhart took a different perspective. His firm evaluates investment opportunities focusing on the five Ts: timing, technology, team, temperament, and terms.”
The selection of presenting entrepreneurs included Neural Dynamics Technologies, Nia Therapeutics, BrainKey, Neural Signals, Thermaquil, CareWear, Saluda Medical, NeuroElectrics, Rune Labs, BIOS and Humm.
Sponsors of the event were Cirtec Medical, platinum, MST, gold, Maynard Cooper and Integer, silver, along with Cleveland FES Center, R Brooks Group and Senso Medical as bronze sponsors. Saluda Medical, BIOS, and Zabara Family Foundation were entrepreneur sponsors.
Neurotech Reports Announces Gold Electrode Award Winners
Neurotech Reports announced the winners of the 2019 Gold Electrode Awards. The award for best new product went to Saluda Medical for its Evoke spinal cord stimulation system. The award for most promising startup went to Nia Therapeutics. The award for most valuable financial professional went to Josh Makower of New Enterprise Associates. The award for most useful nonprofit was presented to the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign. The award for neurotechnology researcher of the year was presented to Vanessa Tolosa of Neuralink.
Elliot Krames, former president of the International Neuromodulation Society, was presented with a lifetime achievement award.