Ekos, Maker of Ultrasound Clot Dissolver, Raises $12.5 Million for Commercial Push

1/30/09Follow @xconomy

Ekos has been working for more than a decade on a miniature ultrasound probe that slithers inside leg veins, and gently amplifies the effect of drugs that dissolve blood clots. The long slog of research and development is done, the manufacturing is set up, and now Xconomy has learned the Bothell, WA-based company has raised $12.5 million in new venture capital to turn the device into a commercial hit that changes the way physicians think about treating blood clots.

The company’s series D round was led by Chicago-based Crown Venture Fund, and joined by 90 percent of the existing cast of Ekos investors, including Ascension Health Ventures, CID Capital, EDS Healthcare Capital Partners, MedVenture Associates, Mitsui & Co. Venture Partners, NGN Capital, and Protostar Equity Partners. The deal closed Dec. 29.

Ekos has now raised more than $100 million in its history. The company, which has 130 employees, expects the new investment will help it reach break-even for the first time by early 2010, says CEO Bob Hubert. The funding also means doctors and patients are much more likely to be exposed to a novel technique that can reduce hospital stays by several days, and lowers the risks of severe bleeding that can happen when people take clot-dissolving drugs over long periods. It’s no small thing, since blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) affect more than 250,000 people in the U.S. each year, and associated clots that can break off and flow to the lungs are thought to kill 100,000 people a year, according to a U.S. Surgeon General’s report. Most patients live with secondary effects, like varicose veins, leg pain, heaviness, or ulcers.

“We’re in the business of removing the clot,” Hubert says. “That’s what we do.”

It sounds simple how Ekos got to this point, but it’s not.

Blood clots in the legs are now generally treated with a combination of drugs and devices. The standard treatment involves threading a flexible catheter inside the veins to nestle up alongside the clots. The catheter contains a porous tube, with spotty holes in it like a garden hose, which is supposed to let clot-dissolving drugs like Genentech’s alteplase (Activase) seep through right next to the clot. It generally takes two to four days to fully dissolve the clot, before the patient can leave the hospital, Hubert says. When the patient goes home, they take warfarin to keep new clots from forming.

One of the biggest concerns with this line of treatment is that when patients spend too much time on a clot-dissolving drug, their risk climbs for severe bleeding, or hemorrhaging, in as many as 5 percent of cases, Hubert says. So several companies have been working on devices to speed up the clot-dissolving process.

Competitors like Wilmington, MA-based OmniSonics Medical Technologies and Santa Clara, CA-based Bacchus Vascular have tried to seize on this opportunity with mechanical assisting devices, Hubert says. The OmniSonics treatment whips up the clot … Next Page »

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