In January 2010, University of Michigan inventors and their entrepreneurial partners secured $11 million in financing to launch Ann Arbor-based HistoSonics Inc., which will develop a novel medical device that uses tightly focused ultrasound pulses to treat prostate disease and ablate cancerous tumors.
HistoSonics will use the capital to develop its histotripsy technology, licensed from U-M and developed by scientists in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Urology. Histotripsy is a non-invasive, image-guided system that ablates tissue with robotic precision. The first clinical application will be treatment of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), a prevalent condition in senior men. The condition affects over two million men in the US and approximately 400,000 are treated surgically each year.
The co-inventors of histotripsy are Charles Cain, Brian Fowlkes, Tim Hall, Zhen Xu and Dr. William Roberts, all from the University of Michigan.
"It works far beyond our expectations, and many people will tell you it's probably going to revolutionize the way ultrasound therapy is done," said Cain, the Richard A. Auhll Professor of Engineering, a professor of biomedical engineering, and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the College of Engineering. For many years, Cain's research has focused on therapeutic uses of high-intensity ultrasound, primarily thermal applications using heat to destroy diseased tissues.
While most of ultrasound products on the market today use heat to destroy unwanted tissue, Dr. Cain and his colleagues took an alternative approach in using cavitation, or, the production of tiny energetic bubbles to create a surgical scalpel that liquefies tissues without heat. "The conventional wisdom was that cavitation should be avoided," Cain says, "but no one could tell me why. So I decided to study it as a possible mechanism for non-invasive surgery." Dr. Cain, with support from an outstanding team of U of M scientists (Drs. Fowlkes, Hall and Xu), and long-term funding from the National Institutes of Health, developed Histotripsy, a non-invasive form of therapeutic ultrasound that employs cavitation rather than heat to ablate tissues and uses ultrasound imaging to monitor the treatment in real time.
"The core technology was the basis of the company's value, but what turned that value into a terrific seed company was introducing talent to it from different sectors," said Ken Nisbet, executive director of U-M Tech Transfer.
The U-M Tech Transfer and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership at the Department of Biomedical Engineering provided funds and expertise that helped Cain and his colleagues guide their invention to the marketplace. The Coulter Project teams a biomedical engineer with a clinician from the U-M Medical School. Cain's medical collaborator is Roberts, a urologist.
U-M Tech Transfer provided gap funding through its Michigan Venture Center and advised the Cain team on commercialization, patenting and licensing issues. Tech Transfer's Mentors-in-Residence program also contributed to the project's success. Jim Bertolina, an expert on medical-device business formation, commuted from Kalamazoo to serve as a Tech Transfer mentor and to support the HistoSonics effort. He will serve as the new company's chief technology officer.
The $11 million Series A financing is led by Venture Investors of Ann Arbor and Madison, Wisconsin. Venture Investors worked closely with Fletcher Spaght Ventures, Hatteras Venture Partners, Early Stage Partners, and TGap Ventures to assemble the investment syndicate.
Management co-founders of HistoSonics are Tom Davison, chairman and chief executive officer; M. Christine Gibbons, president and chief operating officer; and Bertolina, vice president of research and development and chief technology officer.
"We think HistoSonics' novel non-invasive ultrasound procedure has the potential to be a huge game-changer in treating BPH now and many other tumors in the future. They've assembled a great team to launch this product, and we've assembled a great syndicate of venture capital firms to fund and guide the company to success," said Jim Adox, managing director and head of the Ann Arbor office for Venture Investors.