WisBusiness: Wisconsin company has finger on the pulse of heart monitor technology

By Meghan Crain

For WisBusiness.com

While open-heart surgery has become a well-tuned machine in recent years, technologies used during surgery to monitor the heart haven’t advanced much in decades. Eso-Technologies, a Madison based company, is hoping its new heart monitor will provide a safer, more cost-effective way to stand watch over patients.

The current technology, called a pulmonary artery catheter, has been used for about 30 years during surgery to monitor blood flows and pressures. However, such catheters are highly invasive, and can be dangerous for someone with an already compromised heart. Eso-Technologies has developed a monitoring device – inserted through the esophagus – that has proven to be less invasive than a PAC while still giving doctors the heart monitoring data they need.

The company announced earlier this month that it has raised $1 million from Wisconsin angel investors. It was also among companies that presented to investors at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison this month.

Eso-Technologies won the $50,000 grand prize in the 2009 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which began with 326 entries. That contest introduced Eso-Technologies to potential investors and customers.

The current catheters are inserted into the pulmonary artery, and their insertion time can be as long as two hours. Their purpose is to gather data from the heart so that doctors know if the patient is septic or is in heart failure, and for determining proper treatments for the patient.

The new monitoring device is “minimally invasive, and therefore much less risky,” said Bonnie Reinke, president and CEO of Eso-Technologies.

Instead of being inserted into the pulmonary artery, Eso-Technologies’ device is a modification of a standard esophageal stethoscope. It is equipped with sensory equipment and is effective because it is located directly next to the heart.

The new probe has been successfully tested in dogs, with very promising results, and the company hopes to receive FDA approval to start clinical trials in the near future, with the product hopefully going to market within the next three years.

More than 1.5 million PACs are used in the United States per year, but some doctors have become hesitant to use them due to the associated risks. If a minimally invasive product gets to market soon, millions people could benefit.

Eso-Technologies has a plan to break into the market. Reinke said there are about 5,600 short-term general hospitals in the United States that could use the new device. Once the product is ready for launch, Eso-Technologies will have a series of exclusive distributors in the United States that will sell them to hospitals.

The company has also taken steps to ensure that other companies looking to break into the market cannot mimic their design.

“We have six patents that relate to our elemental design,” Reinke said.

While there are other cardiac monitoring devices on the market, they are far more expensive and require a lot of training to use. The transesophageal echocardiography device is more than $5,000 for the probe alone. Eso-Technologies plans to sell its probes at $150 each, making it a far more cost effective product for hospitals.

— Crain is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communications.