Science fiction writers have long imagined putting humans into a hibernation-like state to travel long distances in space. Doctors see another application here on Earth, in which cooling the body could slow down blood flow just enough to buy time when a patient could bleed to death or suffer serious brain damage. Now Redmond, WA-based Physio-Control and San Diego-based BeneChill are teaming up to see if they can apply this basic principle in a new product in Europe.
Physio-Control, a unit of Minneapolis, MN-based Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) is announcing today it has formed a strategic partnership with BeneChill to start selling a non-invasive, portable system for cooling down patients to save time in cases of stroke, cardiac arrest, or traumatic brain injury. This quarter, the companies plan to start marketing in Europe what they call the RhinoChill System, in which liquid coolant is run up through the patient’s nose. Physio-Control and BeneChill say they plan to keep working on new uses of the technology, and towards making the system available in the U.S. later. Financial terms aren’t being disclosed.
“Therapeutic hypothermia can be a vital tool in improving survival from sudden cardiac arrest and is therefore essential to our company’s mission,” said Brian Webster, president of Physio-Control, in a statement. “We wanted to partner with a cooling solution company that was innovative and focused on the science. The RhinoChill system fits well with Physio-Control because it is portable and non-invasive which allows for use in the pre-hospital environment, where deployment has the potential to cool patients much earlier and faster than before.”
Physio-Control is best known as the maker of defibrillators that are used to shock hearts back into rhythm after patients undergo sudden cardiac arrest. The company has had well-documented and embarrassing problems with quality control its devices, an issue that has dogged the company for years. Now Physio is trying to get out of crisis mode once and for all, and into building mode, talking about what it can do to enhance its emergency medicine offerings—including a telemedicine program I wrote about here in November.
Benechill was featured in these pages in December 2009, as Denise Gellene wrote about how evidence was beginning to accrue that suggests its cooling technique could reduce risk of brain damage in cardiac arrest patients—especially when they got CPR within 10 minutes of cardiac arrest. As BeneChill’s CEO at the time, Denise Barbut said, “You just shove it up the nostrils. It can be given by the EMS [emergency medical system] or whoever is there. You don’t need a fancy doctor and a fancy hospital.” The RhinoChill uses a rapidly evaporating cooling liquid, which doesn’t require refrigeration, Physio-Control and BeneChill said in a statement.
One other interesting approach for a sort of “hibernation-on-demand” is in development at Clinton, NJ-based Ikaria. That technology is being designed as a liquid injectable drug to put patients in a slower metabolic state. That drug hasn’t come close to winning FDA approval yet. If the RhinoChill has some success overseas, then we might just hear more about it in the U.S., although it’s a safe bet the FDA is going to want to hear a lot more about the safety and effectiveness of such a device.
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