Coming off a $100k first-place win at last week’s MassChallenge Awards, Adhesys Medical’s Alex Schueller is excited to reinvent how wounds and cuts are closed by surgeons, police and paramedics, and military personnel. One day, we may even see their technology in home and office first aid kits.
“The award’s just one step in a long journey,” Schueller remarked, outlining how he envisions the company’s polyurethane-based tissue and organ glues to one day be used alongside traditional surgical sutures and staples.
The medical use of natural resins and sealants dates back to the Egyptians who prepared salves for treating cuts and burns. They were eventually replaced by sutures, cauterization and, more recently, staples, which together remain the standard of care for closing most large incisions.
These solutions are far from ideal. For example, up to 15% of bowel resection procedures have suture leaks and are at risk of infection. Scarring and postoperative tearing are also also common concerns. And, of course, first responders and military medics often find themselves in situations where precise procedures like suturing a wound are simply impractical.
Tissue and organ glues hold the promise of being fast acting, strong, flexible and fully biodegradable. Under the right conditions, they can function as a replacement for sutures topically, or as a suture or staple line reinforcement internally. For surgeons and others dealing with life-or-death situations, this could make a huge difference.
Unfortunately, the glues currently approved for surgical applications fall short in many ways. They’re often brittle when dry, making them unsuitable for large cuts, cuts on moving body parts, or cuts under tension. Many don’t adhere well on wet surfaces or take precious minutes to strengthen and seal. Others can generate uncomfortable heat as they cure. And still others are so fluid that they can seep into a wound, complicating the healing process.
Schueller and his team at Adhesys Medical want to change all this with an adhesive technology developed—and then abandoned before completion —by the German industrial giant Bayer AG. The team negotiated the purchase of the patents in 2013 and raised their first round of funding in 2014 to finalize the glue’s composition, build the team, and establish the technology’s safety and efficacy. The leadership team, including the technology’s original inventor, has close ties to the RWTH Aachen University, a well-regarded research institution in Europe.
“Sealants or hemostatic agents are not new. But having a combination, a hemostatic sealant if you will, that has it all – i.e. can be used in wet spaces, is strong and fast-sealing – is indeed revolutionary,” notes Dr. Brian Bruckner, advisor to Adhesys and a cardiovascular surgeon at the Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas.
Major General David Morris, Director of the U.S. Army’s Joint Irregular Warfare Center and advisor to Adhesys adds, “Blood loss on the battlefield and beyond costs many lives, even with our modern evacuation capabilities. This technology, in my view, is a game changer. It will save lives.”
Adhesys Medical has since raised about $5.5M from investors in Germany and the US to commercialize their technology. Major studies in preparation for regulatory submissions in Europe and the US have already been completed and the team anticipates approval for cutaneous (skin) applications in Europe as soon as the 3rd quarter of 2017. For the in vivo (inside body) use, clinical trials will start towards the end of 2017.
To aid with European and Latin American sales and marketing efforts, Adhesys has engaged pharmaceutical partner Grünenthal. The details and timing of a North American approval process and launch are less clear but are said to be underway as well.
Over the past four months, more than 125 hand-picked startups have been working out of MassChallenge’s Seaport-area shared-space accelerator. They’ve had the opportunity to meet with mentors to refine their businesses, connected with corporate and nonprofit organizations to explore partnership opportunities, and attended workshops to learn more about product/market fit, pitching, and fundraising.
In early October, 26 startups from this cohort were selected as finalists by a panel of expert judges based on their potential for impact. Over a third of these finalists were women-founded and over a quarter were healthcare-centric, including teams working across medical devices, diagnostics, and information technology. They competed last week for $1.5M in cash awards.
MassChallenge has helped launch a range of healthcare startups, including 2015 cash winners Biorasis, LaunchPad Medical, Recon Therapeutics, and Virtudent. The accelerator’s 2015 impact report observed that, since being founded in 2010, they’ve helped over 835 startups, who cumulatively have raised over $1.1B, generated $520M in revenues, and created over 6500 jobs.
Schueller views his team’s involvement with MassChallenge over the summer as an important inflection point for the company. Building on their U.S. headquarters in Houston, they accomplished their goal of developing critical connections with Boston’s world-class academic and medical communities. They also seized the opportunity to meet with potential investors and partners who would have otherwise been difficult to get in touch with.
“We’re big fans of Boston and our MassChallenge participation. Every early-stage startup looking to accelerate their efforts would do well to give the program a look. Thanks to what we experienced, Boston will remain part of our growth plans going forward.” says Schueller.
James A. Gardner, @jamesagardner, is a Boston-area sales and marketing professional with a passion for consumer technologies and all things health, web & social. He started his career with Procter & Gamble before earning his MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Since then, James has served senior clients as a consultant with McKinsey & Company, led complex digital projects with Boston-area agencies, and built several high-performing marketing teams. He’s also been published and quoted in multiple professional publications, most recently CMSWire, CIO.com, eHealthcare Strategy & Trends, and MedTech Boston.
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