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Biotech firm turns pacemakers into heart monitors
January 18, 2013

By Mike W. Thomas, San Antonio Business Journal

Pacemaker companies across the country, representing a $6 billion-a-year market, are vying for the chance to acquire new technology developed at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The new technology has the potential to save lives through the early detection of heart attack symptoms. It was developed by Dr. Marc Feldman, an associate professor of medicine at the Health Science Center, who has accomplished a rare feat by having two of his companies receive funding from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF).

This week Admittance Technologies Inc., a San Antonio-based medical device startup founded by Feldman, received a $1.99 million investment from the ETF - which was created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 to provide promising tech startup companies with funds for research, development, and commercialization of emerging technologies.

The ETF funding will be used by Admittance Technologies to pursue further studies on the patented technology platform that has already captured the attention of the nation's pacemaker industry. The company's core product is called CardioVol.

It is a technology platform that can piggyback on existing pacemaker components to collect real-time blood volume measurements. This data can then be used to detect problems that may indicate an impending heart attack or other forms of heart disease.

Feldman's first company, CardioSpectra, received $1.25 million in ETF funding in 2005. CardioSpectra was bought out by Volcano Corp. in 2008 and its operations were moved to Boston.

Feldman says he had been working on the technology for CardioVol for 14 years with collaborators Jonathan Valvano and John Pearce, both professors of electrical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. The technology already has nine separate patents, he says. The project has been self-funded to this point, with additional support from the Health Science Center in San Antonio, which has an equity stake in the company.

David Weiss, vice president of research at the Health Science Center, says the school is encouraged to see medical technology developed by its researchers receive substantial financial support from the state fund.

"Investments from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund are vital in allowing our researchers to take their ideas from concept to commercialization," Weiss says.

Jim Poage, the president and CEO of Startech, a nonprofit foundation that provides support and advice for startup technology companies, calls the investment by the ETF a significant step forward for the company as it seeks to commercialize its technology.

"This investment from ETF will not only benefit Admittance Technologies," Poage says, "it will benefit the many people whose lives will be improved through early detection and prevention of heart failure."

Buyout prospects
Feldman says there are five major companies that operate in the $6 billion-a-year market for pacemakers and all have expressed an interest in Admittance Technologies' CardioVol technology. CardioVol can cut admission rates at hospitals by providing early warnings of heart problems when they can be treated with medications. It can also detect abnormal rhythms in the heart and eliminate unnecessary shocks from an implanted pacemaker device.

"CardioVol provides a platform that is ahead of the curve by providing the only device that can determine (the health of a heart) and tune the timing of pacemakers previously implanted in these patients," Feldman says. "The great thing is that it requires no additional surgery because we are piggybacking into devices already indicated in all patients with weakened hearts."

Feldman says he expects that one of the pacemaker companies will want to buy out the technology to gain an advantage over its competitors. But first they are asking for more proof of concept studies and that is where the ETF funding will help.

In addition to the ETF investment, Feldman says the company is looking to raise another $2 million from angel investors and venture capital firms to help draw more value to the company and dilute the state's holdings.

"Our goal is to bring in more investments to expand the company and provide a better return to the state through job growth," Feldman says.

Even if a company buys out CardioVol and takes it out of state, Feldman says there are still other patented uses for the technology that would allow the company to stay intact and pursue other opportunities. For example, researchers with Admittance Technologies are looking at ways to use the technology to monitor the muscles in the kidney to detect cancer and tell if the organ is viable. It could also be used during transplant procedures to monitor an organ while outside the body and determine if it is doing fine or starting to deteriorate.

"Even if CardioVol is sold off, we expect there will be other products that will develop and stay in San Antonio and Austin," Feldman says.

Admittance Technologies currently operates out of space at the Health Science Center in San Antonio and at UT in Austin.

Feldman says he is currently looking to hire a CEO to replace himself in the company. He says he wants someone with more business experience to lead Admittance Technologies.

"I have always been a full-time professor and I don't expect that will change," he says.


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