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.


BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Former Medtronic exec takes the helm of Houston med device startup

mover and shaker

A Houston-based preclinical artificial heart device company has a new head honcho as it grows its team and further develops its technology.

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. He replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

“BiVACOR led an extensive CEO search, and Tom was the clear choice given his experience, background, leadership style, and exceptional track record,” says Timms in a news release. “Tom has the skillset and credibility to guide BiVACOR through its next chapter of transformation and advancement as we undertake the next stage of clinical activities leading up to First in Human early feasibility studies.”

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.”

Timms will take over BiVACOR's technical team working on the Total Artificial Heart system as CTO. The device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

The medical device company, which has operations in Houston and Australia, recently announced the addition of eight new employees doubling their team. The growth comes following its series B raise last year.

“It is a testament to the great progress the team has made and to the importance of the unmet clinical need addressed by the Total artificial Heart technology," Timms says on the appointment of Vassiliades. "We look forward to Tom’s leadership as BiVACOR navigates the path to commercialization.”

In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, a health tech startup has grown its team, a coworking company opens its latest location, and more. Shobeir Ansar/Getty Images

Houston named a top market for remote tech workers, startup doubles its staff, and more innovation news

short stories

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its ability to employ remote tech talent, a coworking company opens a new location, a med device startup doubles its staff, and more.

New report finds Houston a top market for remote tech talent

Houston is a top city for employing remote tech workers. Graphic via Karat

In a new report, Karat — a Seattle-based human resources company — looked at which metros were best for attracting remote tech talent. The company first completed the report based on 2020 due to a changing workforce spurred by the pandemic.

"Last year we took our first look at the rapidly expanding remote software engineer hiring landscape. As more organizations shifted to remote or hybrid working models we had started to see significantly improving candidate performance outside of the more-established tech hubs," writes Patrick Wu, data analyst at Karat, in a blog post. "Today, as even more top tech companies commit to hiring remote software engineers, we’re taking a look at how this landscape has continued to evolve."

Houston ranked No. 6 this year in the list of 10 metros just ahead of No. 7 Austin. Last year, Houston ranked as No. 2 and Dallas at No. 9, but that North Texas metro fell off the top 10 for 2021. Pittsburgh maintained its top spot on this list year over year.

Houston artificial heart company makes strategic hires

This med device company has eight new team members. Photo via bivacor.com

BiVACOR, a Houston-based cardiatric medical device company, announced that it has doubled the size of its team with the addition of eight team members. The growth comes following its series B raise last year.

“The diversity of skills and experience throughout the company is something we are very proud of, and I am pleased to welcome this all-star group of individuals to the team,” says Daniel Timms, BiVACOR founder and CEO, in a December news release. “They will each play an integral role in the overall accomplishments of BiVACOR, specifically as we undertake benchtop and preclinical verification activities so that we can commence our First in Human early feasibility study in the near future.”

Here's who recently joined the company at both its United States and Australia-based operations:

  • Nathan Kong, purchasing administrator
  • Farhad Akhavan, systems engineer
  • David Duarte, verification and validation engineer
  • Paul Chiver, manufacturing technician
  • Lindsey Brede, financial controller
  • Dawnel Scott, director QA/RA
  • Mairi Maclean, director of product development
  • Nicole Bartnikowski, scientific manager (Australia)

“Having the ability to attract and hire individuals with the industry knowledge and pedigrees of this world-class team is a testament to how BiVACOR is perceived in the industry," Timms continues. "Each of them brings a unique perspective and skillset to BiVACOR and will play an important role in furthering our technology.”

BiVACOR is developing its Total Artificial Heart, or TAH. The device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

Coworking company opens new Houston location

Common Desk has a new West Houston location. Photo via Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk has announced the opening of its newest location in Westchase District. The flexible workspace company opened its first location in Houston in October 2020 and unveiled four more locations since then. The company shares in a news release that two more spots will be opening in 2022.

Common Desk - Westchase (2500 CityWest Blvd) ha 20,000 square feet of coworking space with 54 private offices, four office suites, six conference rooms, and shared space. Tenants will have access to an outdoor space, reserved and unreserved garage parking, a fitness center, and Common Desk's coffee brand, Fiction Coffee.

"When thinking about expanding our reach in the city, we knew we wanted to be somewhere in West Houston,” says Bobby Spoden, community sales manager at Common Desk, in the release. “Community comes first at Common Desk, and we love that the Westchase District shares the same value. We couldn't be more excited and honored to become part of the rich community in the West Houston area, and we're looking forward to the new additions to our vibrant member base."

Houston fintech unicorn expands on partnership with software company

HighRadius has deepened its partnership with Genpact. Photo via highradius.com

New York-based Genpact and Houston-based HighRadius announced the expansion of their strategic partnership. The expanded partnerships means the merging HighRadius's Autonomous Software platform with Genpact’s global accounts receivables and digital process and delivery expertise to enhance client experience across the board.

“Now more than ever, the finance function plays a vital role in leading businesses through crises, providing agility and insight that lead to greater resilience. To thrive, organizations must connect, predict and adapt at speed, placing data at their core and embracing digital technologies,” says Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO at Genpact, in a news release. “Bringing our two companies together in even deeper partnership will allow a new level of predictive intelligence that can derive meaningful insights and lead to impactful action for our clients.”

The duo originally teamed up in February of 2020 to bring together their expertise — digital automation solutions and advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“If we paint the picture of the future of finance, and therefore the future of the CFO and the CFO organization, we think about the world of the CFO as one where technologies will basically allow them to make decisions every minute,” says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO at HighRadius, in the release. “Prediction is what the machine will do. Decision, judgment and experience are never going to go away from human beings. So, humans are going to spend more time than they do today on decisions and examining business outcomes. That’s where the HighRadius and Genpact partnership can make a big difference.”

3 deadlines approach for Houston startup opportunities

Don't miss these three founder opportunities. Photo via Rice

Three different entrepreneurial opportunities have deadlines quick approaching.

  • The Rice Business Plan Competition, which is planned for April 7-9 this year, has its applications open until January 31. Any graduate-student startup, in a broad range of industries, from any university, in any degree program, in any country, can apply to the RBPC. Learn more about the competition and how to apply online at https://rbpc.rice.edu/compete.
  • Applications are open for the Black Girl Ventures Change Agent Fellowship, a nine-month leadership skills development program for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders. Selected applicants, who must be based in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, Houston or Detroit, will each receive a $10,000 stipend. The time commitment is about 8 hours/month. The deadline to apply is January 31, 2022, and decisions will be made by mid-February. Learn more and apply at https://www.blackgirlventures.org/fellowship.
  • The 2022 HCC Business Plan Competition has applications open through January 28. The BPC will begin in late February and run through early June, with six free, virtual, 1.5 hour training  sessions. To learn more about the program and eligibility, click here.

Through a series B round and a federal grant, BiVACOR has raised $22 million in funding ahead of human trials. Photo via bivacor.com

Houston-based artificial heart company snags $22M in fresh funds

money moves

Houston-based medtech company BiVACOR has picked up $22 million in funding — in the form of a series B round and a federal grant — to propel development of its Total Artificial Heart device for treatment of severe heart failure.

In a May 19 news release, BiVACOR says it received a series B round of $19 million and a National Institutes of Health grant of $3 million. Boston-based Cormorant Asset Management and Australia's OneVentures, through its OneVentures Healthcare Fund III, led the round.

OneVentures first invested in BiVACOR three years ago. According to Australia's Financial Review, OneVentures initially pumped $3 million (Australian dollars) into BiVACOR, with the potential of contributing as much as $10 million if BiVACOR met certain milestones. BiVACOR received a round of seed funding from U.S. investors in 2013.

"BiVACOR's one-of-a-kind technology is supported by a remarkable team that has moved this technology a significant distance toward the clinic," Paul Kelly, managing partner of OneVentures, says in BiVACOR's news release.

The fresh cash will support preparation for the first human trials of the device. As a short-term measure, the device can be implanted in someone awaiting a heart transplant. It's also designed to be a long-term alternative to a heart transplant.

The BiVACOR device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

"The commitment and interest from our investors validate our technology and the need for improved options to treat end-stage biventricular heart failure," says Daniel Timms, founder and CEO of BiVACOR. "With this financing, we will be able to expand our world-class team and undertake … verification activities so that we can commence our first-in-human early feasibility study in the near future."

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.

The company employs about a dozen people and says the funding will enable it to bring on another 10 employees.

For 13 years, BiVACOR has been working on technology aimed at eliminating the need for heart transplants. Thus far, the BiVACOR device has been tested only on cows.

"In heart failure, the heart becomes unable to pump enough blood to keep the body healthy and strong. At least 26 million people around the world are living with the disease, and the number is rising as populations age," IEEE Spectrumreported in 2019. "Patients with severe heart failure have a bleak outlook: Their best option is a heart transplant, but the limited number of donor hearts means that only about 5,000 patients around the world receive transplants each year. Thousands more patients are eligible for transplants, and some die while waiting for a donor organ."

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.