Myomo Running Lean After Slow Initial Sales of Robotic Elbow Brace

4/21/09

Boston-based medtech startup Myomo has cut its staff by 66 percent and adopted a more virtual business model over the past year, due to slower-than-expected initial sales of its highly acclaimed robotic elbow brace for stroke victims, company co-founder and interim CEO Steve Kelly tells Xconomy.

Kelly says that the angel-funded startup “hit a wall” financially toward the middle of last year, prompting the company to trim its ranks from a dozen to four full-time employees last spring and summer. Also, past company CEO Thomas Glover—a former executive at medical products giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)—resigned from his post at Myomo last summer, at which time Kelly took over as interim chief executive. Nearly two years since the FDA cleared Myomo’s robotic elbow brace for use in hospitals, only three medical centers have purchased the devices, Kelly says. He adds that the devices are in use at clinics in the Boston and New York markets, and the firm plans to add Hartford to that list in the near future.

“I’m a little disappointed—I thought we would be in more metropolitan areas right now and we’re not,” Kelly says. “That’s partly a function of the economy and the fact that [healthcare] is a conservative industry where things don’t get adopted quickly.”

Myomo‘s technology, initially developed at MIT, is indeed new to healthcare practitioners. The firm’s first and highly acclaimed product, called the “e100 NeuroRobotic System,” is an elbow brace equipped with electrodes that pick up electrical signals on the skin when a patient is trying to move a partially paralyzed limb. The system translates the signals into movements. And even though the technology has brought the startup awards from MIT and Popular Science magazine, rehab clinics that the company has initially targeted for sales have been slow to adopt the device. The $7,500 cost of the system has not yet garnered U.S. insurance reimbursement, and clinics that purchase the FDA-approved device don’t necessarily get reimbursed more for providing therapy with the product than they would without using it.

Myomo photo

Still, Kelly says he is pleased that his company chose to reduce its expenses and adapt to a virtual model with outsourced manufacturing and engineering before the economic meltdown in late 2008, when many companies were forced to abruptly lower costs and adjust to operating with fewer employees. (He says that Myomo has raised less than $5 million from himself and other angel backers, but he declined to provide further financial details.)

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  • maria

    The myomo is a great idea with a good motive, but it does not promote the correct movement. Yes, patient’s can flex their elbow better, but the motor is doing most of the work, and with elbow flexion as a focus, it only increases spasticity and tightness of the affected arm, promoting the wrong muscles to be stimulated. By wrong muscles, I mean the specific muscle groups biased towards flexion, causing a compensatory movement. Secondly, the myomo does not support the wrist or hand, which only increases the tightness and flexor synergy even more. In closing, I’d like to say, this device has been unsuccessful not because of the economy, but because it promotes an inappropriate movement, and other specifics such as its inability to support the hand and wrist.

  • kori jax

    I really do need this device but the price is out of my reach at the moment, and being in the medical field i can understand why some facilities wouldnt be buying this product to use with their patients, they simply do not have enuff of them i am a stroke patients and the 2 facilities that i frequent one has only myself to treat for paralysis from stroke and the other has about 2 or 3, theres no reimbursement there even for about a whole year of visits for 1device.my suggestion is to drop the price a little or set up a payment or assistance program. Thanx and have awesome day