Elucent Medical, a medical device startup based in Eden Prairie, MN, but with roots and employees in Wisconsin, raised $7.2 million from investors in a Series A funding round that closed last year, says co-founder and CEO Laura King.
The investment flew under the radar, and Elucent hasn’t discussed it publicly until now. Xconomy spoke with King this week to get more details about the financing and check on the progress her company has made since it won the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest in 2014.
The funding round was led by Madison, WI-based Venture Investors and Chicago-based Baird Capital, says King. The money will go toward product development, she adds. She declined to comment on the valuation Elucent received as part of the financing round. Prior to the Series A funding round, all of the money that had come into the startup came from members of its founding team, she says.
Launched in 2014, Elucent is seeking to commercialize a biocompatible clip and detection system for breast cancer treatment.
When a clinician identifies an abnormality in a patient while reviewing the results of a mammogram or other imaging procedure, the usual next step is to perform a breast biopsy and analyze the tissue sample taken from the patient, says King, who used to work in the mammography division at GE Healthcare. At the time the biopsy is done, she says, a small metal clip is inserted into the breast. The reason for doing this is so that later on, others can tell where the tissue was taken from.
“If the biopsy comes back benign, that metal clip stays in the patient,” King says. “If it is malignant, then the patient is typically scheduled for a therapy. Many times that is a breast-conserving surgery. At that time, there is no way for that metal clip to guide the surgeon.”
In order for the surgeon to know where to cut, a patient today would undergo a pre-surgical procedure known as a “hook wire localization.” King says that this type of procedure was first performed in the 1960s and has not changed much over the years. It involves a clinician—usually a radiologist—placing a wire in the breast at the spot of the tumor, using the clip as a target. Later that day, the patient would undergo a procedure to remove the cancer, while preserving as much of the breast as possible.
Elucent’s aim is to eliminate the need for hook wire procedures by creating a more sophisticated version of the biocompatible clip put in at the time of a biopsy. The startup calls this device “Smartclip,” and has trademarked the name, King says. Elucent has previously said that the clip would be a spherical object less than 2 millimeters wide. It is designed to emit a pulse that can be detected by a wand-like reader, which would also be made by Elucent, King says.
Ultimately, Smartclip could help surgeons get a better three-dimensional picture of where the clip is located, says Fred Lee, an Elucent co-founder and a radiologist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.
“The breast doesn’t have a lot of anatomical landmarks for the radiologist and the surgeon to actually be able to know or describe where the suspicious lesion is,” King says.
King declined to provide details on the technology that would allow the wand to pick up signals from Smartclip. “I am unable to comment on any product specifications,” she says.
It can be challenging, scheduling-wise, to ensure that a breast radiologist is available to perform a hook wire localization on the same day that a surgeon can perform breast-conserving surgery, King says. And eliminating the need to do a hook wire procedure before surgery would benefit not just healthcare providers, but also patients, she adds.
“The patient can avoid a second painful and invasive procedure,” King says.
Lee says he and Elucent’s other co-founders decided to form a company in part because of their experiences caring for breast cancer patients who need surgery.
“This was very much a clinical thing—something that was bothering me and was a pain point in my life and in our patients’ lives,” he says. “[We had] a desire to solve that through technology.”
King says that Elucent plans to seek a 510(k) clearance from the FDA so it can sell its system in the U.S. She declined to say when she expects that will happen, saying only that “we are still in development.”
King also declined to reveal Elucent’s current headcount, but says the startup has employees in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Two of the six co-founders listed on Elucent’s website, Elizabeth Burnside and Chris Brace, are no longer with the company, King says.
One reason Elucent picked the Minneapolis/St. Paul area for its headquarters is because of the “talent pool of experienced medical device people” there, King says. Perhaps the best known medtech company in the Twin Cities is Medtronic (NYSE: MDT). The firm is officially based in Ireland but according to Medtronic’s website, its “operational headquarters” is in Minneapolis.
Several of Elucent’s founders were also part of NeuWave Medical, another medtech company whose flagship product uses microwave energy to zap tumors. NeuWave was acquired last year by Ethicon, a surgery-focused subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), for an undisclosed sum.