In the decade since the FDA cleared the first deep brain stimulation device to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (Medtronic’s Activa), it’s become established a safe, effective option along the spectrum of care. But Geoff Thrope, the founder and managing director of venture and commercialization firm NDI Medical LLC, said that technology hasn’t changed much since it first came out.
Now, as other companies advance me-too deep brain stimulation devices in the U.S. and bring them to market in other countries (read: St. Jude Medical and Boston Scientific), there’s a market opportunity for technology that can make the newer devices different and better.
NDI has spun off a new portfolio company, Deep Brain Innovations, to do just that. CEO Thrope said NDI has been working with Warren Grill, a professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, over the past several years to identify needs of clinicians that weren’t being met by existing DBS technology. Thrope said they saw two big opportunities: making the devices more efficient, so that their batteries would last longer, and improving their performance.
DBS devices comprises electrodes, leads and a pulse generator that are implanted in patients. They deliver electrical pulses to targeted areas of the brain to block electrical nerve signals that generate PD symptoms like tremor, stiffness, slowed movement and walking problems. Clinicians program a “dose” of therapy by selecting the amplitude of stimulation delivered, the duration of the pulse and the frequency of stimulation.
Grill – also the company’s chief scientific officer – has developed a fourth dimension, enabling clinicians to control what he calls the temporal pattern of stimulation, or the pattern of time between the pulses. Using computer models and engineering methods, he design patterns of stimulation, like Morse code, that maintain the device’s efficacy while making it more efficient. Deep Brain Innovations, then, thinks it can use that technique to improve the longevity of implanted DBS devices and reduce replacement-related risks and costs.
Over the last few years, the team has done a series of clinical studies with thought leaders at Duke University, Emory University and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center that have demonstrated effectiveness of the technique, Thrope said. Now, Deep Brain Innovations is looking to secure a commercial partner with which it can run a final clinical trial, complete the regulatory process and bring the device to market within the next 24 months.
“Now what you can do is modify (a device’s) pattern through software, whether that’s with technology already on the market or a company that’s bringing a new product into the marketplace,” Thrope said. “We should be able to accelerate the process of delivering this particular new therapy into the marketplace in a much more efficient manner that if you were coming up with a totally new therapy.”
Formed in 2012, Deep Brain Innovations is the latest spinoff of NDI, which invests in and develops neurostimulation technologies in large markets where there’s at least one validated product but where needs still exist. The global market for neurostimulation devices is expected to grow rapidly, reaching $6.8 billion within three years.
NDI has also spun out SPR Therapeutics, which is commercializing a device for shoulder pain in post-stroke patients, and Checkpoint Surgical, a device to help doctors locate nerves during operations. The last product Thrope and Grill worked on together, a bladder pacing system called MedStim, was acquired by Medtronic for $42 million in 2008.