[Updated 5/16/18 8:14 a.m. See below.] Medical Engineering Innovations, a Madison, WI-based developer of medical devices that use radio frequency energy to remove cancer from the liver, is in the process of raising a $1.2 million Series A funding round, says Richard Schmidt, the startup’s president and CEO.
Champaign, IL-based Serra Ventures is leading the equity funding round, Schmidt says, and six other investors have committed to providing funds. MEI has brought in more than $1.8 million in equity investments since launching in 2005, and has raised an additional $1.25 million in grant funding, he says. [Updated throughout with information from Richard Schmidt.]
MEI is developing surgical devices for the ablation, or elimination, of cancerous tumors, Schmidt says. The company’s tools are also aimed at helping oncologic surgeons perform liver resections—procedures that sometimes involve removing diseased liver tissue in cancer patients, and which are also known as hepatectomies.
The line of products MEI is developing is called the SwiftBlade system, Schmidt says. The system includes a radio frequency energy generator, and an electrode that delivers the energy to a patient’s tissue and blood vessels through a set of disposable blades that’s shaped like a hair pick. The generator has multiple channels, he says, meaning it can receive feedback from tissue in the liver during a procedure and be adjusted to deliver more or less energy.
MEI’s products are designed to be use during—and not in advance of—liver resections and other procedures, Schmidt says.
If MEI successfully commercializes the SwiftBlade generator and one or more of the complementary hand sets it’s developing, they could help reduce patients’ blood loss and shorten the amount of time surgeons need to operate, Schmidt says. The goal is to get tissue in the liver to coagulate and blood vessels to seal within three to six minutes after the surgeon pushes the blades into the target area of the patient’s body, he says.
“With the resection product, what we’re doing is creating a coagulated wall of tissue between the diseased section of the liver and the non-diseased section,” he says. “Once you create this coagulated wall of tissue, the surgeon can take a scalpel and cut along that wall and remove the diseased section of the liver.”
Clinicians performed the first survival surgeries on pigs using MEI’s system in 2016, part of the startup’s effort to validate its products, Schmidt says. The company had previously conducted several tests of its devices on animals, he adds.
MEI says it plans to prepare a submission for a 510(k) clearance from the Food and Drug Administration later this year.
MEI hired Schmidt as CEO in 2012. Previously, he spent more than a decade at Madison-based TomoTherapy, which was acquired in 2011 for $277 million by Accurary (NASDAQ: ARAY), a large, California-based medical technology business.
One of MEI’s four co-founders is Dieter Haemmerich, an associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Haemmerich worked with UW Health radiologist Fred Lee to build a radio frequency ablation device that they later licensed to Valleylab, now part of Medtronic (NYSE: MDT).
Lee is one of the co-founders of NeuWave Medical, which develops microwave energy-based tumor-zapping devices for surgeons. In 2016, the company was sold to Ethicon, a surgery-focused subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), for an undisclosed sum.
The fate of NeuWave and TomoTherapy suggest that it’s possible to build a medical device company in Wisconsin that a large player in the industry will be willing to pay millions of dollars to acquire. Still, MEI, which has reportedly had trouble raising money in the past, still appears to have a long way to go.
Serra Ventures previously invested in several Wisconsin-based startups. One of them, Madison-based Asto CT, is developing a computed tomography scanning machine designed to peer inside the legs, heads, and necks of horses and other animals. Another Serra Ventures portfolio company is ConsortiEX, a Milwaukee-based startup whose software helps users track prescription drugs as they move through the supply chain.