LipoSonix Agrees to $150M Takeover by Medicis Pharma

LipoSonix, rest in peace. The developer of ultrasound technology for busting up unwanted fat, said today it has agreed to be acquired by Arizona-based Medicis Pharmaceutical for $150 million.

The sale marks the end for the privately-held company in Bothell, WA, which probably has more potential for Oprah-style mass market appeal than any medical technology this side of Botox. LipoSonix’s scientists and engineers, led by CEO Jens Quistgaard, spent almost 10 years working on a dream of tailoring ultrasound waves to bust up fat non-invasively. If the new owners can prove it safe and effective for the market, the device could help meet this obese country’s demand to look thin without the discipline of diet or exercise, and without the risks of liposuction.

A big-name crew of venture investors will cash out via the sale. The Carlyle Group, Versant Ventures, Shroder Ventures Life Sciences, and Accuitive Medical Ventures were among the earliest backers. Three Arch Partners, Delphi Ventures, Essex Woodlands Health Ventures and Pinnacle Ventures participated in a $27 million round for the company in July 2004.

I wrote about the company’s technique, called SonoSculpt, at the time in a story for The Seattle Times in 2004. The SonoSculpt is being tested to use high-intensity ultrasound waves, beamed a little more than an inch below the skin surface. The idea is to bust up fatty tissues without pain, scars, anesthesia or a long recovery time.

Nobody was entirely certain in the early going where the fat went, although the theory was that once it was busted up into smaller particles, the immune system’s garbage disposal unit, macrophage cells, would digest the fat. If too big a particle bust loose and clogged an artery or lung, that would be big trouble.

Quistgaard, an electrical engineer, joined Liposonix in 2002 after a stint as chief technology officer at SonoSite, the maker of portable ultrasound machines as diagnostic tools. Ultrasound has a long history of looking into mother’s wombs at developing babies, and more recently has been tested as a therapeutic tool for more high-intensity jobs like cauterizing battlefield wounds, at Seattle-based AcousTx.

Quistgaard said in the 2004 interview he didn’t want people to get too carried away with hype about the ultrasound fat-busting technology. He was getting better acquainted with late-night TV infomercials for what he called “lotions and potions” against fat, as a form of market research, quacks and all. “We’re not saving babies here,” he said at the time.

Still, the venture capitalists, as well as Medicis, know the market potential for such a technique, if it can win FDA approval, is huge and growing. Americans spent an estimated $13 billion in 2007 on cosmetic surgery and nonsurgical cosmetic treatments like Botox, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. That’s up from $9.4 billion in 2003. So if Medicis can get the fatbuster past the FDA, it’s probably a safe bet you’ll hear about it soon on a television near you.

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