Jim Dillon has been named CEO of BiVACOR. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Houston-based medical device company BiVACOR has brought aboard a new CEO.

Jim Dillon, a longtime executive in the medical device sector, has been hired to lead BiVACOR and join its board of directors. Dillon succeeds former heart surgeon Dr. Thomas Vassiliades, whose appointment as CEO was announced in January 2022.

“Jim’s leadership style, combined with his experience in building high-performance teams as well as expertise in the heart failure field, makes him the ideal person to lead BiVACOR,” Raymond Cohen, chairman of BiVACOR, says in a news release.

Cohen was named chairman of BiVACOR in December 2023.

Most recently, Dillon was CEO of Massachusetts-based BioVentrix, a medical device company that focuses on minimally invasive procedures aimed at preventing heart failure. He previously held sales and marketing positions at medical device companies Abiomed, TherOx, and InfraReDx.

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) paved the way for BiVACOR to conduct a first-in-human clinical feasibility study of its Total Artificial Heart product. The study, initially featuring three patients at Houston’s Texas Heart Institute, is set to start during the first half of 2024. It will evaluate the device’s use as a substitute for a heart transplant.

The device “is unique in its complexity and importance as an advanced treatment option for end-stage biventricular heart failure patients,” Dillon says, and promises “to truly revolutionize the field.”

About 100,000 patients suffering from severe heart failure could benefit from BiVACOR’s artificial heart, the company says. For these patients, drug therapy is limited and the health prognosis is bleak, given the scarcity of donor hearts around the world.

Founded in 2008, BiVACOR maintains its headquarters in Houston, along with offices in Huntington Beach, California, and Brisbane, Australia.

To date, BiVACOR has raised nearly $37.8 million, according to CB Insights. The company’s investors include Boston-based Cormorant Asset Management, Australia-based OneVentures, the Australia Department of Health, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Moji Karimi of Cemvita Factory, Thomas Vassiliades of BiVACOR, and Veronica Wu of First Bight Ventures. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries recently making headlines in Houston across biotech and medical device.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita

Moji Karimi joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how Cemvita has evolved with three distinct lines of energy transition businesses. Photo courtesy of Digital Wildcatters

A lot has changed since Moji Karimi co-founded his biotech company Cemvita with his sister Tara in 2017. In fact, a lot has changed just in 2023 — for Cemvita, for the energy transition, and for world as a whole.

In the past year, Cemvita has evolved its business to target three verticals, all within the company's mission of using synthetic biology to create solutions for the energy transition. Now, as Karimi explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast, Cemvita is a startup of startups.

While tackling the various verticals might seem ambitious, Karimi explains that they are all aligned with Cemvita's core mission and technology.

"If you think about it, everything we're doing has something to do with nature," he says on the show. "Environmental microbiology, biotech, and synthetic biology — it's now available, and we have the tools to do it. We want to be the company that goes and finds those applications and translates it from the idea and the science to the technology, and then scale it up into the engineer solution." Continue reading.


Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR

Led by CEO Thomas Vassiliades, a former heart surgeon, BiVACOR is based on a system of magnetic levitation. Photo courtesy

A Houston company with a breakthrough heart health tech has received a green light from the FDA.

BiVACOR, a Houston-headquartered medical device company, has received FDA approval for its Total Artificial Heart (BTAH) IDE first-in-human early feasibility study (EFS). The BTAH device itself is designed to take over all function for patients with heart failure. The BTAH is roughly the size of a human fist, which means that, while it could support an active adult male, it may also fit many women and children.

Led by CEO Thomas Vassiliades, a former heart surgeon, BiVACOR is based on a system of magnetic levitation.

“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,” Vassiliades told InnovationMap in a podcast earlier this year. Continue reading.

Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures

First Bight Venture's BioWell has received a $741,925 grant to continue supporting bioindustrial startups. Photo courtesy

A Houston-based nonprofit accelerator that works with early-stage synthetic biology startups has secured nearly $750,000 to support its mission.

First Bight Ventures' accelerator, BioWell, secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program that the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has established. First Bight was one of 60 organizations to receive funding.

The funding will support the BioWell's mission to establish a "vibrant bioeconomy" by helping startups scale and commercialize "through access to a unique combination of pilot bioproduction infrastructure," according to a news release from First Bight.on.

"Often times, early-stage startups gain momentum and hit important milestones, but ultimately find themselves heading toward the 'Valley of Death,' where progress is made on their enterprise, but no sufficient revenue is generated for the company's stability and longevity," Wu says in the release. "This 'Build to Scale' program's support will help offset these inevitable challenges in our bio-industrial space." Continue reading.

The study will include 10 hospitals enrolled as possible sites and is slated to begin in 2024. One location is Houston’s own Texas Heart Institute. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Houston medical device company with long-lasting artificial heart reaches FDA milestone

feasibility focused

A Houston company with a breakthrough heart health tech has received a green light from the FDA.

BiVACOR, a Houston-headquartered medical device company, has received FDA approval for its Total Artificial Heart (BTAH) IDE first-in-human early feasibility study (EFS). The BTAH device itself is designed to take over all function for patients with heart failure. The BTAH is roughly the size of a human fist, which means that, while it could support an active adult male, it may also fit many women and children.

Led by CEO Thomas Vassiliades, a former heart surgeon, BiVACOR is based on a system of magnetic levitation. “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,” Vassiliades told InnovationMap in a podcast earlier this year.

Because of that, BiVACOR could potentially last for a patient’s entire life with no wear — something, Vassiliades explains, is new to the field.

The EFS includes 10 hospitals enrolled as possible sites and is slated to begin in 2024. One location is Houston’s own Texas Heart Institute.

“I am eager to begin the BiVACOR Total Artificial Heart EFS to evaluate what I believe is a promising and potentially life-saving technology,” Joseph Rogers, CEO of the Texas Heart Institute, says in a press release. “The implantation of a TAH system is a potential treatment option for patients with heart failure who need support while on the heart transplant waiting list and for those who do not qualify for a transplant. The BTAH is designed to replace the function of the native heart completely. It is an impressive technology, and I am excited to see the potential of BTAH in treating patients with severe heart failure.”

BiVACOR’s chief medical officer is Texas Heart Institute cardiac surgeon William Cohn. He said that this EFS is a “critical milestone” for him and the BiVACOR team.

“This device will provide a unique approach to help patients currently with limited clinical options,” he explains.

The upcoming study is planned for biventricular heart failure patients who need a mechanical circulatory support device as a bridge to later transplantation. However, the team hopes that future studies will follow to chart the BTAH’s success with short-term and long-term destination therapy.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Albert Huang of Allotrope Medical, Janice Tran of Kanin Energy, and Thomas Vassiliades of BiVACOR. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from medical device to energy transition — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Albert Huang, founder of Allotrope Medical

Allotrope Medical was founded in 2016 by Dr. Albert Huang. Image via LinkedIn

Illinois-based Northgate Technologies Inc. announced the acquisition of Houston-founded Allotrope Medical earlier this month. Founded in 2016 by Dr. Albert Huang, the startup has designed an electrosurgical ureter identification system for optimizing surgery for both robotic and non-robotic laparoscopic surgical procedures. Huang, according to his LinkedIn, is now chief medical officer for NTI.

"To have taken this from idea to exit has been a true honor," Huang writes in a post on LinkedIn. "To all those that have generously given me their time, their input, their investment, and even more importantly, those that believed in me and this technology, thank you." Read more.

Janice Tran, CEO of Kanin Energy

Kanin Energy set up shop in Greentown Labs last year to grow its impact on the energy transition. Photo via LinkedIn

Last year, Janice Tran, CEO of Kanin Energy, a waste-heat-to-power concept that uses a technology called organic rankine cycle, moved from Calgary, Canada, to Houston to continue growing as a company.

“We’re hiring and building our team office out of Greentown. It’s been really great for us,” she says, adding that becoming part of the Houston energy ecosystem has been invaluable for Kanin.

The investments being made in climate tech and in energy transition make Space City the right place for the company. Read more.

Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR

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

Though most of the BiVACOR team works on the West Coast and even Australia, the medical device company has its headquarters in Houston because it's the "center of the universe when it comes to blood pumps," says Dr. Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR.

The company has designed a unique device that can both fully replace the human heart and last the rest of the patient's life, something neither artificial on transplanted hearts can do.

"The device is suspended by magnets — it's not touching anything," he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "So, theoretically, the device has no wear and can last as long as the patient can possibly live. That's new to the field." Read more.

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

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

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 183

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.


BiVACOR has received fresh funding from its investors to further develop its artificial heart. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Houston med device startup raises $18M, prepares to hire

money moves

A Houston medical device company that is developing an artificial heart announced it has received investment funding to the tune of $18 million.

BiVACOR's investment round was led by Boston-based Cormorant Asset Management and Australia's OneVentures's Healthcare Fund III. According to the company, the funding will be deployed to continue research and development, hiring executives, and support the path to first in human trials.

“We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support from our core investors," says Thomas Vassiliades, who was named CEO of BiVACOR last year, in a news release. "This additional commitment further validates our technology and the need for improved options to treat end-stage biventricular heart failure.

“With this financing, we will be able to double the size of our organization and add key positions from the C-suite to research and development. We are well positioned to advance our preclinical activities and aim to conduct our First in Human early feasibility study planned for the end of the year,” he continues.

Billed as the first long-term treatment for patients with severe biventricular heart failure, the BiVACOR Total Artificial Heart is an implantable artificial heart that utilizes rotary blood pump technology. This technology includes magnetic levitation and is a "durable, reliable, and biocompatible heart replacement," per the company's release. It's about the size of a fist and can be used in a wide range of patients including some children and women and up to adult males.

“Under the leadership of its expert management team, the company has developed a credible strategy for growth as they march toward first in human studies,” says Jeannie Joughin, board chair and principal at One Ventures, in the release. “There is a huge gap in care for patients waiting for a heart transplant, and we are confident that BiVACOR will continue to execute its strategy to swiftly get the Total Artificial Heart into the patients who need it most.”

The company raised its $22 million series B round in early 2021, which was also led by Cormorant Asset Management and OneVentures. To date, BiVACOR has raised $60 million.

“BiVACOR continues to execute on its strategy, and there was no question that we would jump in to lead this funding,” says Bihua Chen, CEO and founder of Cormorant Asset Management. “We are impressed by BiVACOR’s world-class team and continued dedication to push the technology in the clinic. We’re excited to support their growth and vision to transform the treatment of biventricular heart failure with the world’s first fully MAGLEV total artificial heart.”

Founded in 2008, BiVACOR maintains offices in Cerritos, California, and Brisbane, Australia. The company is affiliated with Houston's Texas Heart Institute, where the world's first artificial heart was implanted. BiVACOR's headquarters is at the Texas Medical Center complex.

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Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.

City of Houston approves $13M for new security tech at renovated IAH​ terminal

hi, tech

A new terminal currently under construction at George Bush Intercontinental Airport just got the green light for new security technology.

This week, Houston City Council unanimously approved the funding for the new Mickey Leland International Terminal's security equipment. The Mickey Leland International Terminal Project is part of the $1.43 billion IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, or ITRP, which is expected to be completed by early next year.

This new IAH International Terminal will feature an International Central Processor, or ICP, with state-of-the-art technology in a 17-lane security checkpoint — among the largest in the country — as well as ticket counters and baggage claim.

“Houston Airports strives to get passengers through TSA Security in 20 minutes or less. Today, we meet that goal at Bush Airport more than 90 percent of the time,” Jim Szczesniak, director of aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “This investment in innovative technology will enhance our efficiency and ensure that our passengers have a world-class experience each time they visit our airports.”

Going through security at IAH is about to be smoother sailing. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

The funding approval came from two ordinances, and the first one appropriates $11.8 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, service, install, and train staff on nine new automated screening lanes, called Scarabee Checkpoint Property Screening Systems, or CPSS.

Per the news release, each of these CCPS automated lanes "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people and bags/hour than existing equipment used today." Currently, Terminal D's TSA is using eight CPSS Lanes, so the additional nine lanes will bring the total to 17 lanes of security.

The other appropriates another $1.2 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, install, maintain, and train staff on six new Advanced Imaging Technology Quick Personnel Security Scanners.

The new scanners, which don't require the traveler to raise their arms, "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people/hour than existing equipment used today," per the release.

“These new security screening machines are faster, have fewer false alarms and have improved detection rates, which creates a safer experience for our passengers and airlines,” Federal Security Director for TSA at IAH Juan Sanchez adds.

The Mickey Leland International Terminal originally opened in 1990 and is currently under renovation. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

Texas has the 5th highest health care costs in the nation, Forbes says

dollar signs

A new Forbes Advisor study shedding light on Americans' top financial worries has revealed Texas has the fifth highest health care costs in the nation.

Forbes Advisor's annual report compared all 50 states and Washington, D.C. across nine different metrics to determine which states have the most and least expensive health care costs in 2024.

Factors include the average annual deductibles and premiums for employees using single and family coverage through employer-provided health insurances and the percentage of adults who chose not to see a health care provider due to costs within the last year, among others. Each state was ranked based on its score out of a total 100 possible points.

Texas was No. 5 with a score of 91.38 points. North Carolina was No. 1, followed in order by South Dakota, Nebraska, and Florida.

According to Forbes, out-of-state families considering a move to the Lone Star State should be aware of the state's troubling statistics when it comes to family health care. More specifically, nearly 15 percent of Texas children had families who struggled to pay for their medical bills in the past 12 months, the highest percentage in the nation.

Furthermore, Texans have the highest likelihood in the U.S. to skip seeing a doctor because of cost. The report showed 16 percent of Texas adults chose not to see a doctor in the past 12 months due to the cost of health care.

"Unexpected medical bills and the cost of health care services are the top two financial worries for Americans this year, according to a recent KFF health tracking poll," the report said. "These financial fears have real-world consequences. The high cost of healthcare is leading some Americans to make tough choices—often at the expense of their health."

In the category for the percentage of adults who reported 14 or more "mentally unhealthy" days out of a month, who could not seek health care services due to cost, Texas ranked No. 3 in the U.S. with 31.5 percent of adults experiencing these issues.

The report also highlighted the crystal clear inequality in the distribution of health care costs across the U.S.

"In some states, residents face much steeper health care expenses, including higher premiums and deductibles, which make them more likely to delay medical care due to costs," the report said.

For example, Texas' average annual premiums for both plus-one health insurance coverage ($4,626, according to the study) and family coverage ($7,051.33) through employer-provided policies was the No. 4-highest in the nation.

Elsewhere in the U.S.

The state with the most expensive health care costs is North Carolina, with a score of 100 points. 27 percent of adults in North Carolina reported struggling with their mental health who could not seek a doctor due to cost, and 11.3 percent of all adults in the state chose not to see a doctor within the last 12 months because of costs.

Hawaii (No. 50) is the state with the least expensive health care costs, according to Forbes. Hawaii had the lowest percentages of adults struggling with mental health (11.6 percent) and adults who chose not to see a doctor within the last year (5.7 percent). The average annual premium for employees in Hawaii using a family coverage plan through employer-provided health insurance is $5,373.67, and the average annual deductible for the same family coverage plan is $3,115.

The top 10 states with the most expensive health care are:

  • No. 1 – North Carolina
  • No. 2 – South Dakota
  • No. 3 – Nebraska
  • No. 4 – Florida
  • No. 5 – Texas
  • No. 6 – South Carolina
  • No. 7 – Arizona
  • No. 8 – Georgia
  • No. 9 – New Hampshire
  • No. 10 – Louisiana

The full report and its methodology can be found on forbes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.