Procyrion has announced the closing of its series E round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-born and bred medical device company, Procyrion, has completed its series E with a raise of $57.7 million, including the conversion of $10 million of interim financing.

Procyrion is the company behind Aortix, a pump designed to be placed in the descending thoracic aorta of heart failure patients, which has been shown to improve cardiac performance in seriously ill subjects. The money raised will allow the company to proceed with a the DRAIN-HF Study, a pivotal trial that will be used for eventual FDA approval and commercialization.

The Aortix is the brainchild of Houston cardiologist Reynolds Delgado. According to Procyrion’s CSO, Jace Heuring, Delgado, gained some of his experience with devices for the heart working with legendary Texas Heart Institute surgeon O.H. “Bud” Frazier. He filed his first patents related to the Aortix in 2005.

Heuring says that the first prototypes were built in 2011, followed by the final design in 2018. CEO Eric Fain, a California-based MD and with more than 30 years in the medical device industry, joined the company in 2018 ahead of the final design, primed to bring Aortix to the public. He visits the company’s Houston headquarters, across the street from Central Market, on a regular basis.

The device’s pilot study of 18 patients was completed in 2022. Those encouraging results paved the way for the current study, which will include an enrollment of 134 patients. The randomized study will seek to treat patients with acute decompensated heart failure. Half will be treated with standard-of-care therapy, the other half will be catheterized with an Aortix pump. A separate arm of the study will seek to treat end-stage heart failure patients who would otherwise be deemed too sick for either a transplant or an LVAD permanent pump. Fort-five healthcare centers in the United States will participate, including Texas Heart Institute.

“One of the key characteristics is [the patients] are retaining a lot of fluid,” explains Heuring in a video interview. “And when I say a lot, I mean it could be 25 or 30 or 40 pounds of fluid or more. When we put our pump in, one of the main goals is to reduce that fluid load.”

On average, about 11 liters of fluid came off of each patient. Many of those end-stage patients had previously been considered for both a heart and kidney transplant, but after using the Aortix, their kidneys responded so well that they were able to get only the heart transplant.

“These patients really are in dire straits and come into the hospital and today the only proven therapy to help these patients is to administer high doses of intravenous diuretic and some other cardiac drugs and in about 25 percent of patients those therapies are ineffective,” says Fain.

If Aortix gains approval, these sickest of the sick, usually consigned to hospice care, will have hope.

Thanks to the Series E, led by Houston’s Fannin Partners, returning investors, including Bluebird Ventures, the Aortix is inching closer to commercialization. Besides funding the DRAIN-HR study, Procyrion will also use the funds for internal programs to improve product manufacturability. One more step towards meaning advanced heart failure may not always be a death sentence.

Last month, Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and alluded to Procyrion's raise. The company was born out of Fannin and still resides in the same building as Fannin.

Aortix is a pump designed to be placed in the descending thoracic aorta of heart failure patients. Photo via Procyrion

A Houston startup based out of the TMC Innovation Factory has announced funding and upcoming trials. Photo courtesy of TMC

Houston health tech startup secures $16M series A, prepares for first U.S. clinical trials

money moves

Fueled by fresh funding in the bank, a medical device startup has announced upcoming trials.

VenoStent, Inc., a company developing an innovative tool to improve outcomes for hemodialysis patients, has closed $16 million in a series A round of financing. Two Charleston, South Carolina-based firms — Good Growth Capital and IAG Capital Partners — led the round.

The company also announced it received Investigational Device Exemption from the FDA for its United States clinical trial, SAVE-FistulaS.

“Our mission at VenoStent is to improve the quality and length of life of dialysis patients. On the heels of our very promising results in several preclinical studies and a 20-patient feasibility study that led to our Breakthrough Designation last year, this recent IDE approval is perhaps our biggest milestone to date," Tim Boire, CEO of VenoStent, says in a news release. "We now enter an exciting new epoch in our company’s development that we believe will ultimately result in FDA Approval and vastly improve the quality and length of life for patients."

VenoStent's novel therapeutic medical device is a bioabsorbable wrap. Image courtesy of VenoStent

VenoStent's series A will fund the trial, expand manufacturing capabilities, and more. The company is targeting the more than 800,000 people in the U.S. with end-stage renal disease. Currently, more than half of the surgeries performed to initiate hemodialysis fail within a year. VenoStent's novel therapeutic medical device is a bioabsorbable wrap that reduces vein collapse by providing mechanical support and promoting outward vein growth.

“This trial is designed to provide the highest level of clinical evidence. We’re excited to be in this position to treat the first patients in the United States with this technology, and demonstrate the safety and efficacy of our device,” continues Boire in the release.

Per the release, the company is aiming for FDA Approval and be the first-to-market device to improve hemodialysis access surgery.

“We’re extremely pleased to be partnering with VenoStent on this critical mission. This company and technology are poised for commercial success to address a critical, unmet need,” says Bob Crutchfield, operating partner at Good Growth Capital, in the release.

The TMC Venture Fund also contributed to the series A investment round, along with SNR, Baylor Angel Network / Affinity Fund, Creative Ventures, Cowtown Angels, Alumni Ventures, and other notable angel investors. Past investors in VenoStent include KidneyX, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, Y Combinator, Health Wildcatters, and the Texas Halo Fund.

“VenoStent’s data and traction to date is impressive and gives us a lot of confidence in their continued success. We look forward to helping them get this Breakthrough product to market and help patients that are in dire need of this innovative technology,” says Joel Whitley, partner at IAG Capital Partners, in the release.

Tim Boire is the CEO of VenoStent. Photo via LinkedIn

A new innovation out of the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign Program is enhancing efficacy of a life-saving aortic aneurysm rupture procedure. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biodesign innovators ready to spin out startup with life-saving vascular tech

heartbreak healers

Yes, you can die of a broken heart — although it's not in the hyperbolic way you might be thinking. Fewer than 20 percent of people who have an aortic aneurysm rupture survive the event. But aortic aneurysms can be treated if they’re caught before they burst. A new Houston company is devoted to a novel solution to helping patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA).

That company is Taurus Vascular. As part of the current class of the TMC Innovation Biodesign Program, fellows Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther were tasked with creating a biomedical company in a year. The founders started their journey last August. At the end of this month, they'll be kicked out of the nest, Kuhn tells InnovationMap. Taurus is also in Rice University's 2023 cohort of OwlSpark, an ongoing summer program for startups founders from the Rice community.

Kuhn is a biomedical engineer who just scored his forty-fifth patent. The CEO says that he hit it off quickly with his co-founder and COO, Lowther, former director entrepreneurship and innovation at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther co-founded Taurus Vascular as TMC Biodesign fellows. Photos via taurusvascular.com

Members of the Biodesign Program are paid a livable stipend to devote themselves fully to creating a pioneering company. Kuhn says that he became interested in finding a more effective way to heal AAAs during his four and a half years as a project leader at the Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center.

“It was ripe for innovation and we landed on a concept of some merit,” he says.

The current standard of care for AAAs is EVAR, or endovascular aneurysm repair, in which a surgeon inserts a stent to relieve pressure on the aneurysm.

“It used to be if you had a AAA, you had a gnarly procedure,” he says, which included a large incision across the abdomen. EVAR eliminated that, but its problem is that it often results in endoleaks. As many as 20 percent of patients need another EVAR within five years.

Taurus Vascular’s technology improves on EVAR by placing a self-deploying stent to create a drainage pathway between the high-pressure aneurysm sac and a low-pressure nearby vein — mitigating the adverse impact of endoleaks that would otherwise cause the aneurysm to continue to grow. The simple solution will allow patients to live longer, healthier lives after their procedure.

Kuhn says that being in Houston has been and will continue to be instrumental in his company’s success. Part of that, of course, is his relatively cosseted status as a founder in the Innovation Biodesign Program. But he says that the industry as a whole has become almost like a family.

“It feels very different from startup life for other industries where it feels competitive,” he explains. "You have to be a little crazy to start a medical device company and there’s a sense that we’re all in the same boat. People are so generous with their time to share resources. I feels like I have 100 co-founders."

Following the end of Taurus Vascular’s time in the program that helped conceived it, its founders will remain in the same building, continuing to work to support their technology. The next step is raising a seed round that will pay for the company’s chronic animal studies. Because Taurus Vascular is producing a Class III medical device, its approval process to get to market is the most stringent the FDA has.

The goal is to be commercial by 2030, says Kuhn. By then, Taurus Vascular will have healed many a heart.

InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

Fresh off grant, Houston health tech company's AI aims to revolutionize diagnostics, care

data-driven

In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

Another product, RadOnc-AI, is designed to help doctors prescribe radiation dose plans for head and neck cancers.

“Ideally the perfect plan would be to provide radiation to the tumor and nothing around it,” says Havelka. “We’ve built a product, RadOnc-AI, which autogenerates the dose treatment plan based on medical images of that patient.”

It can be an hours-long process for doctors to figure out the path and dose of radiation themselves, but the new product “can build that initial pass in about five minutes,” Havelka says.

That in itself is an exciting development, but because this technology was developed using the expertise of some of the world’s top oncologists, “the first pass plan is in line with what [patients would] get at tier-one institutions,” explains Havelka. This creates “tremendous equity” among patients who can afford to travel to major facilities and those that can’t.

To that end, RadOnc-AI was recently awarded a $1.55 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a state agency that funds cancer research. The Radiological Society of North America announced late last year that InformAI was named an Aunt Minnie Best of Radiology Finalist.

“It’s quite prestigious for our company,” says Havelka. Other recent laurels include InformAI being named one of the 10 most promising companies by the Texas Life Science Forum in November.

And InformAI is only gaining steam. A third product is earlier in its stage of development. TransplantAI will optimize donor organ and patient recipient matches.

“A lot of organs are harvested and discarded,” Havelka says.

His AI product has been trained on a million donor transplants to help determine who is the best recipient for an organ. It even takes urgency into account, based on a patient’s expected mortality within 90 days. The product is currently a fully functional prototype and will soon move through its initial regulatory clearances.

The company — currently backed by three VC funds, including DEFTA Partners, Delight Ventures, and Joyance Partners — is planning to do another seed round in Q2 of 2023.

“We’ve been able to get recognized for digital health products that can be taken to market globally,” says Havelka.

But what he says he’s most excited about is the social impact of his products. With more money raised, InformAI will be able to speed up development of additional products, including expanding the cancers that the company will be targeting. And with that, more and more patients will one day be treated with the highest level of care.

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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 logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.