HEalth tech

Houston medical device company heads to clinical trials following recent $2.8 million raise

Saranas Inc. is testing its technology that can detect and track internal bleeding complications. Getty Images

A Houston-based medical device startup is on a twofold mission to reduce healthcare costs and improve the safety of complex medical procedures involving blood vessels.

Saranas Inc. currently is testing its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System, which is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. These medical procedures treat problems, such as aneurysms, that affect blood vessels.

"What attracted me to Saranas is that our solution has the potential to meaningfully reduce serious bleeding complications that worsen clinical outcomes and drive up healthcare costs," says Zaffer Syed, president and CEO of Saranas. "In addition, our device may support access of important minimally invasive cardiac procedures by allowing them to be performed more safely."

Dr. Mehdi Razavi, a cardiologist with the Texas Heart Institute at Houston's Texas Medical Center, invented the device. It's being tested by the institute and other medical facilities in the U.S. As many as 100 patients will participate in the clinical trial, which is expected to last several months.

If all goes well, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve Early Bird in 2019, Syed says. Then, the device would be made widely available to medical facilities across the country.

In May, Saranas said it received $2.8 million in funding from investors to enable testing of Early Bird. In all, the startup has collected $12 million from investors. A month after the funding announcement, Saranas was one of 50 startups chosen for the MedTech Innovator program, which nurtures medical technology companies.

As explained by the Texas Heart Institute, the Early Bird employs a sheath — a plastic tube that helps keep arteries and vessels open — embedded with sensors that measure the electrical resistance across a blood vessel. When the Early Bird senses a change in the electrical resistance, medical professionals get audible and visual notifications about potential internal bleeding. If detected early, this bleeding can be halted or prevented.

"There is a risk of bleeding that occurs when some of these coronary interventions are performed through the femoral artery, which is in the upper thigh," Syed says.

In a release, Texas Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Joggy George says internal bleeding "remains the Achilles' heel" of advances in noninvasive endovascular procedures.

Syed says there's an underappreciation for how often bleeding occurs during nonsurgical procedures that provide access to a patient's blood vessels. Each year, doctors perform these procedures on more than 20 million patients in the U.S.; of those, about 1 million experience severe complications from bleeding. Those complications can lead to longer, more expensive hospital stays along with a higher risk of death.

Initially, Saranas is targeting high-risk endovascular procedures done with large sheaths, rather than endovascular procedures performed with sheaths of all sizes, Syed says.

Syed took the helm of Saranas in February 2017. He's spent nearly 20 years in the medical device industry, including four years at Bellaire-based OrthoAccel Technologies Inc.

For the time being, Syed is one of just a handful of employees at Saranas, which was founded in 2013 and has benefited from its affiliation with the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute. Syed expects to grow the Saranas team in 2019 once the Early Bird gains clearance from the FDA.

During his tenure in the medical device sector, Syed has been "keenly interested" in bringing impactful innovations to the market, such as the Early Bird device.

"It is especially important to me that such innovation not only improves health outcomes but also aims to drive down healthcare costs," he says. "We are in a healthcare environment where if you don't have a health economic benefit coupled with a clinical outcome, it is very challenging to get adoption of new technology."

Sandy Wallis, managing director of the HX Venture Fund, has seen investing in Houston change over her 20-year career. Courtesy of Sandy Wallis

After 20 years in the venture capital world, Sandy Guitar Wallis has seen the evolution of investing — on both coasts and here in Houston as well.

Now, as managing director of the HX Venture Fund, Wallis is playing the long game. The fund of funds acts as a broker to other venture funds, raising money from limited partners and then strategically doling out investments to non-Houston venture funds, with the hope that those funds circle back into the Houston innovation ecosystem with a multiplier effect.

"We have raised a fund of funds with the HX Venture Fund, and we're deploying that capital across probably 10 venture capital funds over time," Wallis explains on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Each one of those funds, will invest in 15 to 20 underlying private companies. So, at the end of the day, HX Venture Fund 1 will have exposure to 10 VC funds, as an example, and — by virtue of those investments — maybe 300 private companies."

The HX Venture Fund is aiming to raise between $50 million and $70 million for its first fund. Last year, HXVF made six investments, and Wallis says she expects another three to five investments in 2020. Ultimately, Wallis says, HXVF is looking to get a wide range of of firms involved — from early stage to later, growth stages — as well as a diversity in industries of focus.

Beyond the money, HXVF is opening up the discussion on a national scale, with visiting VCs and potential investors.

"We are getting a lot of interest in coastal VCs who want to invest here," Wallis says on the podcast.

Wallis, who is a co-founder of Weathergage Capital, got her MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, but has been in Houston for most of her career — traveling to each coast for business. Wallis shares her expertise, discussing everything from why the IPO process has slowed to what startups need to know about venture capital.

Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.