Former Boston Scientific Exec and UCSD Physician Team Up at Startup Topera Medical

3/17/11

Here’s an interesting development involving figures in the medical devices scenes of Boston and San Diego. Topera Medical, a secretive startup launched in 2008 in San Diego, has established a new headquarters in the Boston area to develop a catheter system for rapidly identifying the source of irregular heart rhythms in each patient. The Lexington, MA-based firm, which was founded to commercialize the inventions of physician Sanjiv Narayan at the University of California, San Diego, has also hired former Boston Scientific executive Edward Kerslake to be its CEO.

Kerslake, who used to evaluate emerging technologies as a corporate vice president at Natick, MA-based Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX), says that he joined Topera as its chief executive in December 2010. The company has raised a small, undisclosed amount of Series A financing recently from a group of individual investors that includes veteran medical technology executives. Plans are to expand the round later this year with additional investments.

Topera has been operating with a low profile for most of its existence and only recently put up a website. Work on the firm’s technology has until now been conducted at UCSD, where chief scientific officer Narayan is an associate professor of medicine, and at the VA San Diego, where he is director of the electrophysiology. (Narayan, whose diverse training includes a master’s degree in software engineering, was a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School and a faculty tutor for the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences Technology program.) Ruchir Sehra, a medtech consultant who serves as the chief medical officer of the Carlsbad, CA-based medical devices firm PhotoThera, is also a co-founder of Topera.

Topera’s executives are keeping many of the details about the firm’s technology under wraps until the large Heart Rhythm Society annual meeting in San Francisco in May, when the firm plans to release details about the clinical use of its system for identifying patient-specific sources of irregular heart rhythms. Yet people with knowledge of the technology provided me with some general information about it.

Using catheters inserted in the heart, Topera detects electrical signals from the heart. Its software analyzes the signals to provide physicians with a two-dimensional electrophysiological map of the heart. The aim is to show how electricity is flowing in the heart, providing a way to view the abnormal electrical flows that can sustain arrhythmias such as atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, the most common of the arrhythmias, affects about 2.7 million Americans and is a cause of stroke and heart failure. Treatments for the complex disease include drugs to thin the blood and control heart rhythms as well as surgery for cases in which the drugs aren’t effective. But many such procedures, which involve using catheter-based tools to ablate the heart tissue involved in the disease, end in failure. Part of the challenge is knowing which tissues to target.

Existing systems have been able to give physicians three-dimensional maps of the heart to aid in the treatment of irregular heart rhythms. The large providers of such technologies include St. Jude Medical (NYSE:STJ) and Biosense Webster, a Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) company. And Burlington, MA-based startup Rhythmia Medical has been working to improve the speed and resolution of 3D heart-mapping tools.

Hopefully, Topera will have some interesting data come May that will shed more light on its technology and its ability to aid in the treatment of arrhythmias.

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