Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

U-M spinoff secures $11M to finance disease-fighting ultrasound technology

U-M inventors have secured $11 million in financing to launch Ann Arbor-based HistoSonics Inc., which will develop a novel medical device that uses tightly focused ultrasound pulses to treat prostate disease.

HistoSonics will use the capital to develop its histotripsy technology, licensed from U-M and developed by scientists in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Urology. Histotripsy is a noninvasive, image-guided system that ablates tissue with robotic precision.

The company founders and the co-inventors of histotripsy are Charles Cain, Brian Fowlkes, Tim Hall, Zhen Xu and Dr. William Roberts, all from U-M.

“It works far beyond our expectations, and many people will tell you it’s probably going to revolutionize the way ultrasound therapy is done,” says Cain, the Richard A. Auhll Professor of Engineering, a professor of biomedical engineering, and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the College of Engineering. For many years, Cain’s research has focused on therapeutic uses of high-intensity ultrasound, primarily thermal applications using heat to destroy diseased tissues.

The $11 million Series A financing is led by Venture Investors of Ann Arbor and Madison, Wis. Venture Investors worked closely with Fletcher Spaght Ventures, Hatteras Venture Partners, Early Stage Partners and TGap Ventures to assemble the investment syndicate.

The Office of Technology Transfer and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership at the Department of Biomedical Engineering provided funds and expertise that helped Cain and his colleagues guide their invention to the marketplace. The Coulter Project teams a biomedical engineer with a clinician from the Medical School. Cain’s medical collaborator is Roberts, a urologist.

The Office of Technology Transfer provided gap funding through its Michigan Venture Center and advised the Cain team on commercialization, patenting and licensing issues. Tech Transfer’s Mentors-in-Residence program also contributed to the project’s success. Jim Bertolina, an expert on medical-device business formation, commuted from Kalamazoo to serve as a Tech Transfer mentor and to support the HistoSonics effort. He will serve as the new company’s chief technology officer.

While most ultrasound products on the market today use heat to destroy unwanted tissue, Cain and his colleagues took a different approach. They used cavitation — the production of tiny energetic bubbles — to create a surgical scalpel that liquefies tissues without heat.

“The conventional wisdom was that cavitation should be avoided, but no one could tell me why,” Cain says. “So I decided to study it as a possible mechanism for noninvasive surgery.”

With support from his research team and long-term funding from the National Institutes of Health, Cain developed histotripsy, a noninvasive form of therapeutic ultrasound that employs cavitation rather than heat to ablate tissues and uses ultrasound imaging to monitor the treatment in real time.

The first clinical application will be treatment of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that affects more than 2 million men in the United States. About 400,000 BPH patients are treated surgically each year.

Management co-founders of HistoSonics are Tom Davison, chairman and chief executive officer; M. Christine Gibbons, president and chief operating officer; and Bertolina, vice president of research and development and chief technology officer.

“We think HistoSonics’ novel, noninvasive ultrasound procedure has the potential to be a huge game-changer in treating BPH now and many other tumors in the future. They’ve assembled a great team to launch this product, and we’ve assembled a great syndicate of venture capital firms to fund and guide the company to success,” says Jim Adox, managing director and head of the Ann Arbor office for Venture Investors.