Healionics Takes First Step Toward Glaucoma Treatment, Appoints New CEO

3/24/09Follow @xconomy

Healionics is taking an important step today toward becoming a commercial business. The Redmond, WA-based company, the two-year-old developer of technology to promote healing around implantable medical devices, has sold and shipped its first product. It has also undergone a leadership shake-up, with CEO Rob Brown stepping aside and being replaced by the company’s former No. 2 executive, Michel Alvarez.

The product that uses Healionics technology, TRClarifEYE, is designed to help improve treatment of dogs with glaucoma. The product uses a proprietary material, called STAR, developed by UW bioengineering professor Buddy Ratner and Andrew Marshall. The material has tiny pores that allow blood vessels to reach through it and better integrate with an implantable shunt that is supposed to relieve pressure and swelling from behind the eye. If the STAR material works as advertised in the marketplace, it will prevent the shunts from getting clogged after a couple of months, and help them last longer. The Healionics technique has been shown in animal tests to help the shunts work for nine months, Alvarez told me back in September.

The dog glaucoma device is being marketed by Chandler, AZ-based TR BioSurgical, and is scheduled for a “limited market launch” next month, Alvarez says. This isn’t expected to generate windfall profits for Healionics, but could generate some immediate cash flow to help support R&D for other potential uses of the STAR biomaterial. There is growing interest in this biomaterial: Healioncs had done 10 deals with partners that wanted to use it for various implantable devices back in August—and it has signed 19 collaborations now, Alvarez says. He wouldn’t identify who the partners are other than to say the company has done deals with “multi-billion dollar companies” and that some of this will apply to human applications for medical devices. But that still sounds like it’s a ways off in the future.

“TR wants to roll this out carefully and methodically,” Alvarez says. “This is just one of many opportunities we have.”

The bigger deal will be proving this does what Healionics says it does, and showing in clinical trials that it can do the same thing in people. The company raised $2.6 million from various angel investors in a second round of financing in December, and with just seven employees, that ought to last a while. Healionics hasn’t yet entered its first clinical trial—the really expensive part of developing new drugs and devices—although if it can show real cash flow first with its material in dogs, that will make it a lot easier to find investors willing to write the checks needed to take the next step.

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