Pathway’s New CEO Carves Out Market in the Legs & Beyond

Xconomy Seattle — 

Tom Clement was the founding engineer who started Kirkland, WA-based Pathway Medical Technologies a decade ago, resurrected it after a setback in treating heart disease, and reinvented it around a modified device to clear out clogged arteries in the legs. Now that it has won FDA approval, task No. 1 at Pathway is to make its Jetstream device a big seller, and it’s a job for a new guy, Paul Buckman.

Buckman told the Pathway story yesterday in front of a roomful of investors at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, the biggest biotech investing conference of the year. It was a bit jarring to see someone other than the highly-regarded Clement give the company’s presentation. Buckman officially took over back in October, but Clement is still closely involved in strategy as chairman of the board.

Turns out that Buckman brings loads of experience in medical device companies. He was a co-founder and CEO of Pathway’s chief competitor, Plymouth, MN-based ev3; a former president of the cardiology division of St. Jude Medical; and held executive roles at Scimed Life Systems and Boston Scientific. Yesterday’s presentation didn’t delve into scientific language about the clinical trial data that supports the Jetstream; instead Buckman worked to close the sale by using a few compelling anecdotes, like how the Jetstream singlehandedly cleared out leg blockages in an ailing 91-year-old woman in less than an hour. The woman’s doctor was reluctant to operate at all under the circumstances, given it would have taken seven different devices, 14 onerous insertions of catheters, and $20,000 in equipment.

The point is that doctors think the Pathway device is safe enough to use in the most fragile of patients, and can be done with the flick of a wrist. It’s bound to increase the number of people who get the artery-clearing procedure. Buckman is obviously a guy who didn’t just show up at his first JP Morgan rodeo.

“Tom is more of a technical guy, and we’ve been talking about doing this for a couple of years, bringing in a commercial guy when we went commercial,” Buckman said, when I asked him after the presentation why he took this job.

The Jetstream, as I wrote back in September, is a tiny stainless-steel drill mounted on a catheter that snakes inside clogged arteries, where it runs at several thousand RPM to cut up and vacuum out fatty buildups. The company is pitching it as the first device capable of drilling into and vacuuming out rock-hard calcium deposits in leg arteries, just as easily as its slices through squishier clots and lesions.

Pathway’s sales argument will lean heavily on cost and convenience to the physician. Buckman told one anecdote of the first commercial case in the U.S., in which a patient with a long blockage in the legs was scheduled for a two-hour procedure by the physician. It took 45 minutes from start to finish, with the Jetstream actually operating for just 15 minutes, he said.

Pathway is competing with a device from ev3 called the SilverHawk that scrapes out plaques in the legs, as well as a laser-based system called Turbo Elite. Both of those devices can be effective, but partly because of cost and convenience, have only captured a small slice of the market of the estimated 8 million to 12 million people with peripheral arterial disease, the formal name for cardiovascular buildups in the legs, Buckman said.

A more convenient machine should “expand the pie,” Buckman said. He’s also got his eyes on expanding use of the Jetstream to other parts of the anatomy, like below the knee, clearing out scar tissue on stents that prop open clogged arteries, and making devices in a couple different diameters to fit wider arteries, he said.

“We have more opportunities than resources,” Buckman said.