Madison medical device startup takes big step with first patient
Dr. Bradley Glenn wasn't trying to create a better mousetrap, but the concept was (sort of) the same.
Glenn, an interventional radiologist working in Green Bay at the time, is an avowed tinkerer who had come up with several different medical innovations that he'd licensed to companies such as Johnson & Johnson.
But when he invented a minimally invasive, patient-friendly alternative to larger chest ports and peripherally inserted central catheters, he decided to start his own company.
He dubbed it Stealth Therapeutics, with the aim of designing and developing a portfolio of improved venous access devices. Glenn, a northern California native, has since returned to the Golden State. But his startup is based in Madison's University Research Park and now has four employees. Glenn continues to guide the company's product strategy.
The Invisiport, the company's first product, is intended to be used in patients suffering from diseases that require long-term intravenous treatment, such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, Lyme disease or infection.
WisBusiness audioIn what Peter Drumm, Stealth Therapeutics CEO, calls a major leap forward, the Invisiport device was implanted in its first patient several months ago. He said the patient, an 18-year-old college freshman who suffers from the dysmotility syndrome, is using the Invisiport for nutrition. The young woman also lives in northern California, but is not a patient of Glenn's.
Dysmotility affects a person's ability to digest certain foods and requires intravenous nutrition. Drumm said the young woman uses her Invisiport twice a week on her own.
He said it was a huge step for the company to have its first patient use the device. Better yet, he said the young woman is thriving with it.
"Hopefully, this will lead to other clinicians seeing that it will have value for their patients and improve their quality of life," he said.
Drumm said the impetus for creating the Invisiport was to help breast cancer patients who were concerned about having a PICC implanted in their chests that could lead to scarring or other disfigurement.
"Dr. Glenn felt this would be a good alternative… and be more aesthetically pleasing," said Drumm, who has worked with several Madison-area startups.
He said Glenn entered his idea for Stealth Therapeutics in the 2006 Wisconsin Governor's Business Plan Contest, taking second place in the life sciences division.
Glenn then attracted the attention of the Ken Johnson and his Kegonsa Seed Fund, which starting backing the company in late 2007. Drumm joined the company in 2008, the same year he says it really got going.
"Our first product was beyond the 'napkin stage,'" he said. "We had an initial prototype developed, but we had to go through a bunch of iterations before we could send our application to the FDA for clearance."
The startup received clearance for the device last October and has been busy -- it did not require a clinical study -- raising capital. By May, Drumm said, it had closed on a round of $1.3 million. The first salesperson was hired in May and the second, two months ago.
"We are now actively pursuing clinicians and medical institutions to evaluate our product," he said.
Drumm said the young woman in northern California -- a former lifeguard and water safety instructor who could no longer go swimming because she used a PICC -- developed her malady two years ago. Prior to receiving an Invisiport, she received her nutrition through a more obtrusive PICC, which had caused one infection.
The young woman wanted to do her feedings -- which can take up to 10 hours -- at home, Drumm said. With the Invisiport, she can self-administer her feedings twice a week by herself as she sleeps and does not need to go to a hospital.
He said the young woman and her doctor chose the device over other ports in the market because it is much smaller and much less visible.
"She is an 18-year-old going to college and concerned about how she looks," he said. In a photo provided by the company, a blue mark on her upper chest is the only indication she uses the device.
"She's now had it for three months," he explained. "She said would have been difficult to go off to college with the PICC line. She just wanted to feel more normal. It was difficult for her to do activities of daily living, like taking a shower."
She said her PICC was an "obvious neon sign that there was something wrong with her, requiring her to explain her condition," Drumm noted.
Now, he added, she can participate in more activities and wear normal clothes because the Invisiport is so small.
For more information on Stealth Therapeutics, see http://www.stealththerapeutics.com.
-- By Brian E. Clark