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

Atul Varadhachary of Fannin joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston innovator plays the long game of life science innovation with optimized capital efficiency

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 222

Commercializing a life science innovation that has the potential to enhance or even save the lives of millions of patients is a marathon, not a sprint. That's how Atul Varadhachary thinks of it, and he's leading an organization that's actively running that race for several different early-stage innovations.

For over a decade, Fannin has worked diligently to develop promising life science innovations — that start as just an idea or research subject — by garnering grant funding and using its team of expert product developers to build out the technology or treatment. The model is different from what you'd see at an accelerator or incubator, and it also varies from the path taken by an academic or research institution.

The life science innovation timeline is very different from a software startup's, which can get to an early prototype in less than a year.

"In biotech, to get to that minimally viable product, it can take a decade and tens of millions of dollars," Varadhachary, managing director at Fannin, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.



Fannin addresses what Varadhachary calls a twin bottleneck in Houston's life science innovation ecosystem. Not only does Houston not attract the funding biotech startups need desperately to grow their companies, but hiring is a major issue as the city isn't home to an established labor pool of experienced product developers within the industry.

"The challenge is that product development is more complex — it requires innovation, but that's not sufficient. When you ask people why we lag in the product development in the life sciences — although we are home to the largest medical center in the country, we don't even make list of top 10 biotech clusters — the usual answer is that we don't have enough biotech investors," Varadhachary says.

"But that puts the cart before the horse," he continues. "Investors invest in people not just ideas. Although we have an amazing pool of researchers and clinicians, we lack experienced product developers."

In more ways than one, Fannin is addressing this problem. For all of its several ongoing programs, Fannin acts as the leadership team for the technologies. Its core employees — there are about 20 currently — work on all of the companies, which are developing a range life science innovations, from Brevitest, a point-of-use immunoassay platform, to Procyrion, an intra-aortic pump for congestive heart failure patients.

Fannin's programs also range in stage, which Varadhachary outlines on the show to be three different phases. The earliest stage programs will have Fannin's team working directly on early testing, product development, and grant writing, while the later stage programs will have built out a dedicated team and raise venture investment.

Another way Fannin is addressing Houston's lack of life science product developers is through its Fannin Talent Development Program, which has given around 350 individuals an opportunity to gain critical product development experience.

With 10 years under its belt, Fannin — as well as the greater Houston life science innovation ecosystem — is at a point where it can soon produce exits needed to firm up Houston as a life science leader.

"Clearly, we've got the base elements required to be a successful ecosystem, and they continue to grow," Varadhachary says of Houston. "Typically you need one or two really big success stories — especially if those success stories result in a company being sold, leaving behind experienced product developers with money in their pockets — that's often what will supercharge the next cycle of development. I'm hoping that will happen in Houston in the next five years, decade, or so."

Houston-based Procyrion has closed a $30 million round — doubling its total funding to date. Getty Images

Houston medical device company closes $30 million round

Follow the money

A clinical-stage medical device company based in Houston has rounded up $30 million for its Series D funding. Procyrion Inc.'s round was lead by Bluebird Ventures — a new funding partner for the company.

Procyrion is developing a blood pump, called the Aortix™ system, that's optimized for patients with heart and kidney failure. Joining in on the round with Bluebird are return investors, including Fannin Partners, Scientific Health Development, the State of Texas, and an undisclosed strategic investor. This round has now more than doubled the company's total funding, bringing that figure now to $59 million.

"Of the more than 1 million patients per year in the U.S. admitted to the hospital with acute decompensated heart failure, 25 to 30 percent also have worsening renal function," says Eric S. Fain, president and CEO of the company, in a release. "These are typically the most difficult to treat patients with high mortality and rehospitalization rates."

The funds, Fain says, will go toward advancing the medical device, specifically enhancing the system's ability to decongest cardio renal patients in the company's pilot program.

"Today there is a major gap in effective therapies that are available to treat these critically ill patients, and as such, there is a significant opportunity to improve patient outcomes," Fain continues in the release. "The Aortix device is uniquely designed and positioned in the body to simultaneously decrease the workload of the heart and improve kidney function."

The Aortix device is a solution for patients who haven't seen success from medical therapy, but don't have the immediate need for a transplant or more drastic solution. The device is thinner than a pencil, the release says, and can be inserted in a matter of minutes in a cath-lab setting. The size and ease of application could be transformational for the large population of heart patients that would need it.

In addition to the funds, Jeff Bird, managing director of Bluebird Ventures, will join the company's board of directors.

"The Procyrion Aortix device provides an elegant solution for managing heart failure, a serious and difficult-to-treat problem," says Bird in the release. "We are excited to work with this experienced team as they begin clinical testing."


The device is thinner than a pencil and can be inserted in less than 10 minutes. Photo via procyrion.com

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Houston organizations launch collaborative center to boost cancer outcomes

new to HOU

Rice University's new Synthesis X Center officially launched last month to bring together experts in cancer care and chemistry.

The center was born out of what started about seven years ago as informal meetings between Rice chemist Han Xiao's research group and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The level of collaboration between the two teams has grown significantly over the years, and monthly meetings now draw about 100 participants from across disciplines, fields and Houston-based organizations, according to a statement from Rice.

Researchers at the new SynthX Center will aim to turn fundamental research into clinical applications and make precision adjustments to drug properties and molecules. It will focus on improving cancer outcomes by looking at an array of factors, including prevention and detection, immunotherapies, the use of artificial intelligence to speed drug discovery and development, and several other topics.

"At Rice, we are strong on the fundamental side of research in organic chemistry, chemical biology, bioengineering and nanomaterials,” Xiao says in the statement. “Starting at the laboratory bench, we can synthesize therapeutic molecules and proteins with atom-level precision, offering immense potential for real-world applications at the bedside ... But the clinicians and fundamental researchers don’t have a lot of time to talk and to exchange ideas, so SynthX wants to serve as the bridge and help make these connections.”

SynthX plans to issue its first merit-based seed grants to teams with representatives from Baylor and Rice this month.

With this recognition from Rice, the teams from Xiao's lab and the TMC will also be able to expand and formalize their programs. They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

“I am confident that the SynthX Center will be a great resource for both students and faculty who seek to translate discoveries from fundamental chemical research into medical applications that improve people’s lives,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, says in the release.

Rice announced that it had invested in four other research centers along with SynthX last month. The other centers include the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience, the Center for Environmental Studies, the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies and the Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences.

Earlier this year, Rice also announced its first-ever recipients of its One Small Step Grant program, funded by its Office of Innovation. The program will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential," according to the website.

Houston physicist scores $15.5M grant for high-energy nuclear physics research

FUTURE OF PHYSICS

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

The Rice team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas. Photo via Rice.edu

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.