Fred Lee, The UW Radiologist With Startup Vision
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subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), for an undisclosed amount.
From inception to exit, “NeuWave is just a great story for the university,” says Carrie Thome, director of investments at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the UW-Madison’s technology transfer arm. WARF helped NeuWave patent certain aspects of its technology early on, and also invested in the company.
“Fred was able to take the technology he developed [and] be greatly involved in helping to commercialize that technology, which has resulted in better outcomes for patients,” Thome says. “The proceeds WARF earned from the sale will be reinvested back into research on campus so that we can do it again with the next great idea.”
Perhaps that will turn out to be Elucent Medical, Lee’s latest startup, and another company in WARF’s investment portfolio. Elucent, which won the grand prize in the 2014 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, is seeking to commercialize a biocompatible wireless “tag” that would be implanted in breast cancer patients and used to monitor their tumors. The technology could make treatment less costly and invasive, Elucent says.
Elucent’s list of co-founders includes several current or former leaders at NeuWave: Lee, van der Weide, Brace, and King. Other Elucent co-founders include Lee Wilke, a surgeon and director of the UW Breast Center, and Elizabeth Burnside, a radiology professor whom Lee calls “one of the premier researchers in breast imaging” at UW Health.
Currently, after a breast cancer patient has a biopsy, a clinician inserts a small metal clip into the patient to mark the location of the biopsy, Lee says. In some cases, the results of the biopsy indicate that a tumor is cancerous and the patient needs to undergo surgery or another procedure.
When this happens, the surgeon needs to know what part—and how much—of the breast should be removed. On the day of surgery, this information usually comes from someone like Burnside, after she has reviewed mammography scans. Using the metal clip as a target, Burnside would insert a “hook wire” into the patient, so that the surgeon knows where to cut.
“It looks like a big fish hook,” Lee says. “And then the patient goes to surgery for three or four hours, and they have this wire hanging out of them. We put a Dixie cup on top so the wire doesn’t get pulled out, tape it down, and send them to surgery.”
Lee says that Elucent’s tag would eliminate the need for hook wires. It would also cut down on the number of procedures for breast cancer patients, since the tag would be inserted at the time of a biopsy (replacing the metal clip).
Elucent’s device is designed to use a resonator coil to emit a small pulse, which can then be detected by certain surgical instruments. “It’s like ringing a bell,” Lee says.
In 2014, King told Xconomy that Elucent planned to file for FDA approval in 2015 and start selling its device this year. Lee says the timeline has been pushed back, and the startup is currently focused on design features related to the device.
“We know that this has to be a big ergonomic win for surgeons,” Lee says. “We think the surgery is going to be quite a bit faster with this than with a hook wire, but it has to be intuitive and work seamlessly.”