Medtech Investors Gather with Startups at 2022 Neurotech Leaders Forum

Staff report

More than 120 neurotechnology industry professionals—the majority of which were in person—participated in the 22nd annual Neurotech Leaders Forum, held in San Francisco, CA earlier this month. The two-day event featured a number of panel discussions relating to neurotechnology commercialization as well as presentations from more than a dozen neurotech startup companies.

Keynote speaker at this year’s conference was Mudit Jain, founder and general partner of Treo Ventures as well as the NuXcel accelerator. Jain has been instrumental in funding or advising a number of successful firms in the space, including Nevro, Spinal Modulation, CVRx, Inspire Medical, Neuspera, and Shiratronics.

Jain said that Treo likes to invest in category-defining companies that are targeting multi-billion dollar markets with highly differentiated products. His firm has a special focus on bioelectronics and neuromodulation. “What makes neurotech exciting to me is the coming together of the biology—the complexity of solving a biological problem—along with the electronics, and now the integration of AI, and data science. That is what is guiding a lot of the growth we see in this industry,” he said.

Jain looks for companies that have dual exit potential—both through an IPO and M&A. “We are somewhat stage-agnostic,” he said. “We have companies that are already FDA-approved and then we have some that are just coming out of the accelerator.” He has a bias toward neuromodulation firms targeting diseases that are highly symptomatic because that’s what drives the patient to get a surgery.

He said that neurotech has been a source of some of the best IPOs, pointing out Axonics and Inspire in particular. The funding environment could be a little tougher in the next three to five years, he said, but he’s still cautiously optimistic about early-stage VC funding for neurotech in the short term.

A subsequent session devoted to neuromodulation investment moderated by NBR senior consulting editor featured Ariane Tom, managing director at Kaleida Capital, Suraj Mudichintala, senior associate at Action Potential Venture Capital, Amy Kruse, general partner at Prime Movers Lab, and Nick Langhals, from the NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Langhals gave an overview of the NIH’s Blueprint MedTech program [see article, p1]. He also described funding opportunites through the HEAL Initiative and the BRAIN Initiative.

Kruse said her firm looks for breakthrough products in six technology areas, including human augmentation, which she specializes in. Prime Movers funds early stage firms at the seed and series A level and they have an early growth fund operating at stage B and C investment rounds. She said she’s seen the size of A rounds come down recently.

Mudichintala described his firm’s background as a subsidiary of GSK funding bioelectronic medicine startups. Their portfolio includes 10 firms so far and they write checks in the $5- to $10 million range. He said that APVC still sees a strong deal flow despite economic conditions, though valuations may come down a bit.

Tom described her newly formed VC firm, which will focus on early-stage neuroscience and neurotechnology firms. She has a background in patent law, as well as materials science. She said that when there’s a market downturn, there can be a slowdown in funding activity as firms tend to their existing investments.

A panel focused on new indications of deep brain stimulation was moderated by NBR contributing editor Jennifer French, It included Lothar Krinke, the new CEO of Newronika, Erika Ross, director of clinical & applied research at Abbott Neuromodulation, and Jacob Robinson, CEO and co-founder of Motif Neurotech.

Robinson described his firm’s minimally invasive brain stimulation device called MilliStim, which is implanted under the scalp but above the brain. A wearable component supplies power and receives brain data from the miniature implant. The firm plans to use cortical stimulation to treat Parkinson’s and treatment-resistant depression. Krinke said that his firm planned to overcome barriers that currently limit conventional DBS to under 15 percent penetration. The adaptive device makes neurologists more efficient, he said, by reducing programming time.

NBR contributing editor JoJo Platt moderated a panel on privacy, security, and ethics in neurotech, which included Marcus Gerhardt, CEO of Blackrock Neurotech, Rob Barnes, a principal consultant with Amazon Web Services, and Anna Wexler, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Barnes said he got into security after being a victim of credit card fraud, and now considers himself an “ethical hacker.” Wexler has looked at direct-to-consumer neurotech use and works with developers and neuroscientists. “We are under no illusion that the technology we push forward every day could also be used for other means,” Gerhardt said. The panelists also discussed issues such as patient engagement, protection of neural data, and cybersecurity.

Other panel discussions during the conference were devoted to reimbursement issues, neurorehabilitation devices, outsourcing neurotech systems, and new applications in pain neuromodulation. A session on wearable brain devices featured presentations by Richard Hanbury, CEO of Sana Health, Iain McIntyre from Roga Life, and Israel Gasperin, CEO of Canadian firm Zentrela Inc.

Entrepreneur panelists at this year’s conference included Byoung Kwan Kim, CEO of gBrain, Luca Ravagnan from WISE Srl, Ingrid van Welie from Neural Dynamics Technologies, Perry Teevens, CEO of REVAI, and Krishnan Chakravarthy from NXTStim on day one.

Yi-Kai Lo, CEO of SCI neurorehab firm Aneuvo, Colin Kealey, president of NeuroSigma, Nader Yaghoubi, president and CEO of PathMaker Neurosystems, Aswin Gunasekar, CEO of EEG firm Zeto Inc., and Manfred Franke, CEO of Neuronoff, presented on the second day.


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