Uptake Medical Ups and Goes to the O.C., Retains Technical Center in Seattle

1/31/11Follow @xconomy

One of the best-financed medical device startups in Seattle, Uptake Medical, has moved its headquarters to southern California to tap into a deeper pool for medical device industry talent, Xconomy has learned.

Uptake Medical moved its headquarters to the medical device hub in Orange County last fall, CEO King Nelson says. The company has retained technical operations in Seattle, and has about half of its employees in each location, although most future hiring in clinical development, administration, and marketing will be in Orange County, Nelson says. The new headquarters happens to be closer to where Nelson lives, and where he believes he could recruit more senior executives to round out his management team.

There were “no bad reasons for transitioning from Seattle. We plan to keep our technical center in Seattle,” Nelson says. “We are very comfortable with both locations and the groups work very well together.” Uptake issued two press releases in November that offered some clues about the move. It hired a new chief medical officer, and a new chief financial officer. Both releases had an Irvine, CA dateline.

Losing Uptake isn’t exactly like losing Boeing’s headquarters, but it’s a step back for the local medical device sector. Uptake has raised more than $30 million since its founding in 2004, including a fresh round of $17.5 million last July. The company has attracted the investment to support its strategy for treating emphysema. Competitors have spent years trying to prevent air from getting trapped in damaged parts of the lungs, often by inserting implantable devices, as an alternative to lung-reduction surgery. Instead of leaving an implant behind, Uptake’s method uses a catheter to deliver steam that scars and seals shut airways that lead to the bad parts of the lung. Once those are blocked, Uptake says, the healthy parts of the lung can expand more fully.

An estimated 16 million people in the U.S. (mostly smokers) have what is called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, an umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis. So if Uptake’s technology really works to help some of those people breathe better, it could tap into a big market.

At the very least, Uptake Medical in a position to grow this year as it pursues regulatory clearance to market its device in Europe, to start marketing it in other countries outside the U.S. and Europe, and to begin a pivotal trial to get FDA approval.

“As the company grew and received investments, they made the strategic decision to hire additional senior management that happened to be based out of California,” says Tom Clement, the founder of Kirkland, WA-based Pathway Medical Technologies and the chairman of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. “So while we want to develop more potential senior managers for our medical device community in the Seattle area, sometimes those matches will be made from other locations.” He added: “I am disappointed, but it doesn’t mean anything specific about our medical device community.”

Thong Le, a managing director with WRF Capital in Seattle and an investor in Uptake, said it was no surprise the company would move to Orange County since the CEO lives there. “With some of the recent hires added to the team, it made sense to have the official HQ there,” Le says. “Seattle will always be important to the company.”

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