HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 183

How this Houston-headquartered company is innovating the future of heart replacement

Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death in the United States — one in five deaths, according to the CDC. But there's not a long-term solutions for patients — even for those lucky enough to have a successful heart transplant. But a Houston-headquartered medical device company is working on one.

BiVACOR has created a technology that, theoretically, could completely replace a patient's heart and last them the rest of their lives.

"The design is critical," says Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR, on the Houston Innovators Podcast. He joined the organization last year after spending 20 years of a heart surgeon, then transitioning to medical device development over a decade ago.

Vassiliades explains the industry's challenges on the show, saying that there's no comprehensive, lasting replacement to the human heart on the market. While some treatments — like transplants and medical devices that partially replace the heart's capabilities — exist, nothing that completely replaces the heart lasts longer than 10 to 12 years.

"The BiVACOR system is based on magnetic levitation," Vassiliades says about the technology. "Our pump is just one moving impeller that sits in the middle of the housing where the blood is. Imagine an artificial heart — the container that has your blood — and the device spinning in the inside — basically a wheel spinning your blood to the rest of your body.

"The device is suspended by magnets — it's not touching anything," he continues. "So, theoretically, the device has no wear and can last as long as the patient can possibly live. That's new to the field."

Daniel Timms, BiVACOR's founder and CTO, knew there had to be a better, more permanent solution and has been working on the technology since he was a postdoctoral student at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. His work took him to Houston's Texas Heart Institute, the "center of the universe when it comes to blood pumps," says Vassiliades.

The company recently raised $18 million in funding to support its growing team and continued growth. BiVACOR is a Class 3 medical device — the most rigorously regulated type of device, so the funding raised will support the company as it continues to meet the FDA's requirements and proceeds into implantation and clinical trials.

While headquartered in Houston and has close ties to THI, most of BiVACOR's team works out of Huntington Beach, California, just 30 minutes away from its manufacturing partner — something that has been critical for the design phase. Other employees work in Europe and Australia, which has resulted in government grant funding. Each market the company works in has a strategic purpose — and Houston's role is testing.

"We're going to be training all our clinical sites in Houston, and we're going to continue to do ongoing testing," he says. "We're very comfortable with the design of the device, ... but there's always more. And we have a long-term plan to iterate on the device to make it even better."

Vassiliades shares more of the challenges he's facing as he commercializes BiVACOR's technology on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Ramanan Krishnamoorti of UH, Valerie Tompson of SWAN Impact Network, Evan Erickson of TexPower Technologies. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from battery tech to impact inveesting — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Ramanan Krishnamoorti,  as vice president of energy and innovation at University of Houston

Natalie Harms

Ramanan Krishnamoorti has had a varied career in academia, from an engineering professor to nanotech research. While he never made the transition from researcher to entrepreneur, he managed to snag a CEO title at the university about a decade ago: Chief energy officer.

Since then his role has expanded to include advancing UH's innovation of all kinds — from health tech to the arts — as vice president of energy and innovation at UH. In his role, he oversees the UH Technology Bridge, a lab and coworking space for tenants just a short drive away from UH's main campus, as well as future plans, like a new central campus hub for innovation that's in its early stages of development.

"What we really need at the university today is to bring innovation — which tech transfer is a piece of — and connect that to real-world challenges to deliver what the world needs, which is talented folks delivering new innovative, entrepreneurial, or intrapreneurial programs," Krishnamoorti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Read more.

Valerie Tompson, Houston chapter lead for SWAN Impact Network

Austin-founded SWAN Impact Network has entered the Houston innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy of SWAN

SWAN Impact Network, which focuses on funding early-stage, impact-driven startups, announced that Houston will be its next market expansion. Founded in 2016 as the Southwest Angel Network, the organization has grown from several investors to over 80 across Texas. The investors, who meet virtually, range from former entrepreneurs, seasoned investors, and first time angels.

Valerie Tompson, who's serving as the Houston market lead, is an example of someone who was drawn to SWAN's mission, even though she had never invested in startups before.

"I was intrigued by the idea of being able to invest in companies that are making a difference in the world — and it's not a charitable donation," she says, explaining that joining a network allowed for her to learn the ropes and understand the process. Read more.

Evan Erickson, co-founder and CEO of TexPower

A Houston startup founded off research out of a Texas university has cut the ribbon on its new lab space. Photo courtesy of TexPower

TexPower EV Technologies Inc. celebrated the opening of its 6,000-square-foot laboratory and three-ton-per-year pilot production line at a ribbon-cutting event last week. The Northwest Houston site is located at 6935 Brittmoore Rd.

TexPower spun out of the University of Texas at Austin in 2019. The company was co-founded by Erickson with CTO Wangda Li and Board Chairman Arumugam Manthiram, a professor at UT whose lithium-ion battery research fuels the foundation of the company.

“We want to point out how lucky we are — as a company and as scientists," Erickson says at the ribbon cutting event. "It’s not common that you see something you work on in academia turn into something that can become commercially successful.” Read more.

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