Cleveland Clinic neuromodulation spinoff Intelect Medical may have stealthily exited Cleveland to set up shop in Boston, but the company’s recent $78 million sale to Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) highlights Northeast Ohio’s growing strength in neurotechnology.
The Cleveland area — along with cities like Raleigh, North Carolina; Chicago; and Shanghai, China — was identified last year as a “region to watch” among growing neurotechnology cluster areas by trade group the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO). Northeast Ohio’s neurotech strength is concentrated in medical devices. (San Francisco and Boston are home to the world’s leading neurotech clusters.)
Broadly speaking, neurotechnology refers to the drugs, devices and other therapeutics used to improve brain and nervous system function. Neurotechnology therapies often work by sending electrical pulses from a device implanted under the skin that stimulate a patient’s nervous system. In the case of pain applications, the pulses block pain signals from reaching the brain. Neurotechnology applications are used to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, obesity, stroke, epilepsy and chronic pain.
Globally, the neurotechnology industry includes about 500 companies generating about $150 billion in annual revenues, according to the NIO. That number is only expected to grow as researchers continue to develop technologies to treat brain-related illness, which NIO describes as “the largest unmet medical market.”
BioEnterprise Corp., a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio biomedical companies grow their businesses, attributed the region’s strength in neurotech to collaboration between local research and clinical organizations. “Cutting-edge initiatives ongoing at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic and the Louis Stokes Veterans Administration Medical Center have produced pioneering research that has recently led to the development of nine new neurodevice companies,” spokeswoman Annette Ballou said.
Here’s a brief overview of the key players in Northeast Ohio’s rising neurotechnology device industry:
NDI Medical: Formed in 2002 by a graduate of Case Western Reserve’s biomedical engineering program, NDI incubates neuromodulation devices, eventually spinning them off by selling them or setting up separate companies to take them to market. Aside from the dearly departed Intelect, NDI is likely Northeast Ohio’s biggest neurotech success story, thanks to the (pdf) $42 million sale of a urinary incontinence device to Medtronic in 2008.
NDI spinoff Checkpoint Surgical is developing a disposable product used by orthopedists and ear, nose and throat surgeons to identify nerve and muscle function during surgery so they can avoid damaging either one. Another spinoff, SPR Therapeutics, is developing a nerve-stimulating device that relieves chronic pain.
Neuros Medical: This startup is developing a device that uses a pacemaker-sized generator and an electrode to stimulate nerves to block pain from amputations, sometimes called stump pain, without the use of drugs. Last year, the company received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to speed up research into the device, which is still several years away from market clearance. The device could help members of the U.S. military who have lost limbs.
Neurowave Systems: December was an eventful month for Neurowave, which has developed a brain-activity monitoring system designed to help clinicians assess anesthesia levels. The company received FDA clearance to begin selling its NeuroFAST Monitoring System and struck a European distribution deal for a slightly different version of the device. The company will focus in 2011 on ramping up sales in Europe.
NeuroWave was spun off in 2008 from another neurotech company, Cleveland Medical Devices, which develops biomedical signal processing and instrumentation devices for sleep and movement disorders, like Parkinson’s.
Synapse Biomedical: Late last year, Synapse filed an application for regulatory approval to begin marketing its “diaphragm pacing” system for use by some patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The system stimulates the diaphragm to contract, simulating a breathing motion, to help patients with inadequate breathing. Launched in 2002, Synapse Biomedical commercialized technology developed largely by Dr. Ray Onders over two decades at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. The company has drawn attention for its association with the late actor Christopher Reeve, who became Synapse’s third patient after he was paralyzed in a fall from a horse.