GI Dynamics Looks to Tackle Two Global Epidemics with Single Device, Reveals Seedling Roots

9/19/08

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declined to elaborate further on development of the product for uses that could be considered more aesthetic than medical.

GI does have competitors in the development of alternatives to invasive surgery for obesity treatment. For example, St. Paul, MN-based EnteroMedics proposes to implant electrodes that block hunger signals sent from the brain to the vagus nerve.

Though I’m inclined to be skeptical of any medical device startup with plans to solve health epidemics with seemingly simple implants, I was impressed to learn that some big names in life sciences were attached to GI. For one, Christoph Westphal led Polaris Venture Partners’ early investment in GI back in 2004 before he became the full-time CEO of Cambridge, MA, biotech firm Sirtris. And among GI’s investors http://www.gidynamics.com/investors, who have pumped $46 million in VC financing in the firm, is Johnson & Johnson Development, the venture arm of medical products giant J&J (NYSE:JNJ).

GI is actually a product of former Newton, MA, medical-devices incubator Seedling Enterprises, which was launched in 2000 with $3 million in funding from individual investors. Andy Levine, a co-founder of Seedling and former engineer for Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) and other device giants, led the initial development of GI’s EndoBarrier and became founding CEO of the firm in 2003, Randle says. Randle was an investor in Seedling and took the GI deal to Waltham VC firm Advanced Technology Ventures, where he was an entrepreneur in residence before taking the helm at GI in 2004. Levine now serves as GI’s chief technology officer.

Randle says that Seedling has invested all of its $3 million and is no longer in operation, yet it retains equity stakes in some of the companies it helped form including Massachusetts medical devices startups LumeRx, a developer of light-based treatments for intestinal bacteria known as H. pylori, and Angstrom Medica, a maker of orthopedic implants, which was sold Pioneer Surgical Technology of Michigan last year. (I covered the lukewarm feelings of one investor toward LumeRx in this recent story for Mass High Tech.) GI, however, could prove to be the most impressive company to sprout from Seedling depending on the success of EndoBarrier in the multibillion-dollar obesity and diabetes markets. Actually, breaking into just one of the two markets would likely do the trick.

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