Uptake Medical Raises $3M in Venture Capital

Xconomy Seattle — 

Uptake Medical, a Seattle-based medical device company, has raised $3 million to carry out a pair of small clinical trials that could show it has a viable technique for treating emphysema, and other deadly lung-obstructing diseases.

The company got the cash as a “bridge” financing to carry out trials in Australia and Germany, which should help it get to the next step of raising a Series B round in 2009, says CEO King Nelson. The company, which has 20 employees in Belltown, raised the capital from all of its previous investors: Prism VentureWorks, Onset Ventures, Arboretum Ventures, GBS Venture Partners, Affinity Capital, and WRF Capital, Nelson says.

Uptake is working on a technique that would let doctors thread a catheter to a damaged part of lung where air gets in, but can’t get out. Uptake’s idea is to deliver a burst of steam water vapor that scars and seals shut airways that lead to the bad part of the lung, allowing the patient to breathe better with the healthy regions of his or her lung. This is a different approach from its regional rival, Redmond, WA-based Spiration, which is developing a tiny valve that can be implanted in the lung to block off air to the diseased part.

“The encouraging sign is that our existing investors are supportive of what we’re doing,” Nelson says. “As you know, the economic environment is very tough now.”

The world of minimally-invasive devices for emphysema has taken a couple steps forward, and one step back since I profiled Uptake’s effort back in July. Spiration won FDA approval of its valve device in a narrow group of patients who suffer prolonged air leaks after they’ve had surgery to remove a diseased part of lung. Another competitor, Broncus Technologies of Mountain View, CA, raised $38 million in a new round of funding earlier this month. But a third competitor, Redwood City, CA-based Emphasys Medical, failed to get a recommendation for its product from an FDA advisory panel earlier this month.

Uptake’s trial in Australia is enrolling 30 patients, and the one in Germany is recruiting about 20, Nelson says. Results should start rolling in during February, with more follow-up data coming three to six months later in 2009. He plans to have talks with investors next month at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco about what to expect from these trials, at a higher dose. If the Australian and Germany trials go well, they should lay the groundwork for a larger round of funding in 2009, and the first trial in the U.S., he says.

The failure of Emphasys should help Uptake learn how to best design its trials to satisfy the FDA’s standards for clinical benefit, and get the statistical significance to prove it’s no fluke, Nelson says.