News Article | April 21, 2015
The first antidepressant drugs were discovered by happenstance in the 1950s when experimental tuberculosis treatments unexpectedly brightened patients’ moods. Happy accidents have happened in the medical device field, too, and Tal Medical of Boston has reeled in $14 million in Series B funding to push one forward. Tal is developing a treatment for severe depression that is derived from a type of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, the now common technology that looks for damage in the body’s soft tissues. During a study at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, more than ten years ago, researchers were routinely scanning people with bipolar disorder to observe the effects of an experimental drug on their brain chemistry. They found, however, that the scans themselves seemed to have an immediate positive effect on the patients’ depression. Founded in 2011, Tal is building upon those results with a version of MRI called low field magnetic stimulation. (The device pictured above with co-inventor Michael Rohan, a physicist at McLean, is a prototype, and the commercial version will likely look different, said Tal CEO and president Jan Skvarka.) Existing investor PureTech, which formed the company, and undisclosed institutional and angel investors participated in the financing. The Series B money should help the company answer clinical questions in the next year or so that could lead in 2016 to a so-called “pivotal” trial: the final step before FDA considers its worthiness for commercial use. In that setting, which would require more funding, Tal would try to confirm in a much larger population that low field magnetic stimulation brings rapid relief of depression symptoms. So far, the results Tal has to show are only from small studies run at McLean. Tal also needs to run a trial to find the right dose of low field magnetic stimulation: Is it 20 minutes at a time? Forty minutes? An hour? And how many sessions are optimal? The company also doesn’t yet know how long the positive effects recorded at McLean actually last. An ongoing trial funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, which Xconomy wrote about in early 2014, aims to measure the treatment’s durability. It was the first project to receive funding from the NIMH’s Rapid-Acting Treatments for Treatment Resistant Depression (or RAPID) program, which it launched to initiate trials for depression treatments that act quickly, within 72 hours. The RAPID trial should divulge its data in mid-2016. A duration of a few days means low field magnetic stimulation will probably be “a niche product” to get suicidal patients past the darkest days, said Skvarka. Even with a longer duration, the device is meant to treat people in psychiatric facilities with severe depression who need rapid relief of symptoms. It’s not meant to compete with drug regimens. “We can’t compete with the convenience of popping a pill and the cost of generic Prozac,” said Skvarka. “It’s for the patient who needs immediate help.” It might not compete with drugs, but Tal has attracted the talents of several drug veterans with neuroscience experience, a testament to slow or no progress in treating mood disorders pharmaceutically, despite the stunning rise of antidepressant prescriptions in this century. Former Eli Lilly head of research and Voyager Therapeutics CEO Steve Paul is Tal’s cofounder and a board member. The company recently hired as chief medical officer Atul Pande, who was GlaxoSmithKline’s head of neuroscience for five years. And former Merck research and licensing executive Ben Shapiro sits on Tal’s board of directors. There are other devices that use electricity to alter brain chemistry and alleviate depression. Patients who don’t respond to drugs can try a brain stimulation technique called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which is delivered via devices from Neuronetics, approved in 2008, and Brainsway, approved in 2013. There is also electroconvulsive therapy, which essentially induces a seizure in a patient under anesthesia. Tal aims to show its MRI-based method is both safe and works much faster than other electro-options.
News Article | March 11, 2015
Music As Therapy? PureTech’s “Sync Project” Aims to Prove It There’s an old lyric by Bob Seger about Rock and Roll: “That kind of music just soothes the soul.” Listen to an upbeat song while depressed, and you might forget your sorrows. Indeed, music has always seemed therapeutic. Now a new venture from Boston-based startup creator PureTech is going to try to prove it with clinical data. PureTech has announced the formation of what’s being called “The Sync Project.” It’s a collaboration between the Boston firm and several academic institutions and companies with an ambitious idea: scientifically measure and study how music affects various biological functions, like sleep, cognition, speech development, and motor coordination, with the goal of validating the therapy concept, and developing products that actually impact various diseases. The Sync Project is being run by PureTech partner Alexis Kopikis. PureTech CEO Daphne Zohar is a co-founder. Their advisors include Hugh Forrest, director of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival; Adam Gazzaley, a University of California at San Francisco psychology professor (and the chief science officer of another PureTech startup, Akili Interactive); Robert Zatorre, a neurology professor at McGill University; Tristan Jehan, the founding chief technology officer of The Echo Nest; and two academics from the MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito (who recently joined PureTech’s board) and Marko Ahtisaari. The core of the project is a platform that’s supposed to give researchers the ability to study the therapeutic value of music in large populations. PureTech said in a statement that there was a “mountain of research” in scientific literature showing that music has a positive effect on pain and fatigue, but no real connection has been proven in a well-designed, controlled study. The platform is designed to address this problem: it maps music to biometric data in real time, so that researchers can supposedly pinpoint the physiological effects a song has on a person. The system has an interface so apps can be built on it, Zohar said via e-mail. The platform is open, she added: “We are inviting a community of researchers to participate, as well as the broader population.” Zohar said that the project will run “well-designed studies with leading researchers looking at specific conditions as well as enabling broader remote studies with more people that may be less well-controlled, but will have a larger sample size than a typical controlled study.” She declined to specify how much funding the project has. According to Sync Project co-founder and head of science innovation Ketki Karanam, the startup will first look at autism, sleep disorders, and anxiety, and intends to explore other conditions like Parkinson’s, depression, and pain as well. “We hope to build the largest database of music signatures for health,” she said. Karanam added that researchers or engineers can tap into Sync Project to build applications for specific patient groups. “One product could be an app that delivers personalized music to individuals on the autism spectrum to help them manage hyper arousal episodes (predicted from sensor data) that lead to self-injury and meltdowns,” she said. This isn’t the first venture PureTech has put together at the intersection of technology and health. Zohar told me previously that the strategy of PureTech—which isn’t a venture firm, but essentially an operating company whose startups are subsidiaries—has evolved over the years to focus on startups that combine various elements of science and technology. That’s led to companies like Akili, which is developing video games for diagnosing and treating cognitive disorders; and Tal Medical, which is trying to treat depression by rewiring the brain’s electrical circuitry with a device. Now it’s trying to find out whether a therapy can be built out of a song. The timing could be right: music therapy is a burgeoning field, with new companies starting to emerge. “People have always responded to music. Not just emotionally, but biologically,” Kopikis said in a statement. “If music can reach us physically, and we could find a way of decoding what music does, could we use music to improve health? We believe we can. And that’s why we started The Sync Project.”
News Article | May 26, 2015
To Back Startups, PureTech Heads Across the Pond For $160M London IPO PureTech got the financial support of a big U.K. investment manager last year. Now the Boston firm wants the backing of a whole other group of London investors too. PureTech, the creator of a slew of local startups at the nexus of healthcare and technology, this morning filed papers to go public in England. It’s aiming to hold an IPO on the London Stock Exchange, selling at least 25 percent of its outstanding shares in a bid to push forward its various nascent companies—startups like Tal Medical (developing an anti-depression device) and Akili Interactive (therapeutic/diagnostic video games). PureTech expects to raise $160 million in the IPO, and complete the offering in June. PureTech declined to comment on its rationale this morning, citing regulatory restrictions that bar the firm from talking to U.S. reporters. But co-founder and CEO Daphne Zohar (pictured above) said in a few international reports that PureTech chose London over the U.S. stock exchanges because “investors understand [PureTech’s] model,” and because the U.K. “leads the world in the listed technology-transfer space.” Zohar is referring to PureTech’s place in a gray area of startup creation. Though PureTech was originally called PureTech Ventures and births new companies, it isn’t a venture firm, and doesn’t raise the massive funds that VCs generally raise. Instead, it’s structured as a large healthcare operating company with the budget to support itself and the startups it seeds, which function as subsidiaries. It also doesn’t have to think about quickly flipping those companies to get a return, which is why, outside of a recent attempt by weight loss startup Gelesis in the U.S., it doesn’t tend to take its startups public. These ventures are designed to be long-term, revenue-generating holdings that appreciate in value. (None of PureTech’s companies sell products as of yet, though it has generated revenue via partnerships and deals secured by companies like Mersana Therapeutics and Vedanta Biosciences.) PureTech said as much in its London IPO filing; it noted that its goal is to advance its companies to the point that they sell their own products, though it expects “key milestones” might enable those startups to look at some other approaches, like licensing deals or potentially even public offerings of their own. “PureTech is particularly focused on pursuing development paths that enable those companies to partner directly with industry leaders at the right stage and minimize dilutive sources of capital while retaining control over the strategic direction of the business,” the company said in its filing. According to the London filing, PureTech has raised about $250 million in financing since its inception. Late last year, it brought in Invesco Perpetual, a firm with $120 billion under management, as a new investor in a $55 million round. Zohar said in the filing that the cash would bring PureTech’s “most advanced product candidates to revenues.” “With the acceleration of scientific discovery and the convergence of new and disruptive technologies being applied to life sciences, we believe the healthcare industry is on the cusp of a major transformation,” she wrote. “This is an opportune time to leverage PureTech’s expertise in translating science into impactful solutions, to change how we address healthcare problems.” As I wrote last year, PureTech’s strategy has evolved over the years, from building more traditional life sciences companies to launching inter-disciplinary startups that combine various elements of science and technology. Most recently, for instance, PureTech created The Sync Project, a company exploring music-as-therapy techniques. PureTech currently has a portfolio of 12 such companies, of which it owns an average of some 76 percent. The firm has 10 other “concept phase” initiatives that could become future startups as well, filings show. The firm has several big names in its ranks, among them: former Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher (an independent non-executive director); MIT professor and Nobel laureate Robert Horvitz (a board observer and the chair of its scientific advisory board); MIT media labs director Joi Ito (chairman); former Pfizer executive John LaMattina (independent non-executive director); and MIT professor and startup creator Bob Langer (also a non-executive director).
News Article | June 24, 2015
Co-founded by entrepreneur Daphne Zohar and MIT professor Robert S. Langer, it may be one of the most difficult businesses to describe in Greater Boston’s booming life sciences cluster. Now it’s raising eyebrows worldwide with a trans-Atlantic IPO. Part venture capital firm, part biomedical incubator, PureTech calls itself a “science-driven health care company.” It has spawned and bankrolled about a dozen startups — among them microbiomics pioneer Vedanta Biosciences and depression-fighting Tal Medical — many of them small research operations based at the PureTech’s offices in Boston’s Back Bay. Fourteen-year-old PureTech, which raised $50 million in a venture round last year, just pulled off another coup by raising $171 million in an initial public offering and going public on the London Stock Exchange. Zohar declined to say why PureTech opted for a London listing, citing a regulator-imposed quiet period. The newly public company has a star-studded board, including ex-Sanofi chief executive Christopher A. Viehbacher, tech entrepreneur and MIT media lab director Joi Ito, and Marjorie Scardino, the former chief executive of publisher Pearson. Puretech Health plc went public at 160 pounds a share, and ended trading Monday at 180.50 pounds — a gain of 13 percent. Rob Weisman covers life sciences and healthcare for the Boston Globe. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Robert on Twitter
News Article | April 24, 2015
After an off-the-charts year in investment for 2014, the Minnesota bioscience industry has seen a more typical 1st quarter, according to a report from medtech lobby LifeScience Alley. Officials with the Minneapolis-based trade association said yesterday that the 1st quarter of 2015 saw $41 million in total investments in the North Star state. Most of that investment went to the medical device field, always a strong industry in the state. In Q1, 57% of the companies raising money were from the medical device field, and 87% of the total funding came in that area. Read more Tal Medical said today that it landed a $14 million Series B round it plans to use in backing clinical trials for its low-field magnetic stimulation technology as a non-invasive neurostimulation treatment for depression and bipolar disorder. CSA’s main product is its truFreeze spry cryotherapy, which is designed to use super-cold liquid nitrogen delivered via catheter, to ablate unwanted tissue inside the body. Read more Maryland’s CSA Medical said last week that it’s close to reaching a $4 million funding goal with a new debt offering. CSA’s main product is its truFreeze spry cryotherapy, which is designed to use super-cold liquid nitrogen delivered via catheter, to ablate unwanted tissue inside the body. Read more Spirox said this week that it nailed down an $18.5 million Series B round to back development and commercialization of its device to treat patients with nasal obstructions. Venrock and Aisling Capital led the round for Menlo Park, Calif.-based Spirox, with existing investors Aperture Venture Partners, Correlation Ventures and Western Technology Investment also participating. Read more
News Article | January 9, 2015
Not quite a venture firm, research institute or startup, PureTech is a bit of all three. The mission of the early stage research company just got a little bit easier--it bumped up its recent fundraising to $107 million from the $57 million it had raised as of October. PureTech is a dedicated life sciences R&D house that is structured as a corporation and develops its various research programs around specific, larger themes. It's agnostic when it comes to technology; the programs are built around these ideas. Currently, top-of-mind broad areas of interest include the brain, including noninvasive neuromodulation, the immune system, the microbiome and metabolism, PureTech Founder and Managing Director Daphne Zohar told FierceMedicalDevices. Unlike many early life sciences investors, PureTech isn't deterred by medical devices. "We have a number of programs with drug-like potential, but they just happen to be devices," Zohar said. She chalks up what sometimes amounts to a lack of device innovation to the affinity of many companies with the 510(k) process, which relies on predicates and results in "stacked products" that are similar to what's been dubbed "me-too drugs" in biopharma. She suggested that medical devices as a sector are where biotech was in 2009, poised to achieve a real breakthrough but not quite there yet. "With more innovative, big market approaches, I see no reason that devices can't be just as big an opportunity as drugs. I look forward to a renaissance in devices," said Zohar. She sees the rapid emergence of digital health and the entrance of non-traditional companies and investors into the device world as game-changing. "Apple, Google, Samsung are redefining what it means to be a medical device." PureTech has 12 pipeline programs and an additional three active sourcing initiatives that could get to that stage. Each of the programs is structured as an independent corporate entity, in which PureTech usually has majority ownership. These include Gelesis, which has a weight loss pill that swells in the stomach; Tal Medical, with a fast-acting neuromodulator for depression; and Akili Interactive Labs, which is developing a platform for remotely diagnosing and treating cognitive disorders. Tal is a 2014 Fierce 15 company. In addition to Zohar, PureTech founders and managing directors include MIT professor and biotech entrepreneur Robert Langer and John LaMattina, the former head of R&D for Pfizer ($PFE). PureTech's companies have gone on to attract hundreds of millions in additional funding from other sources. In addition, its deep-pocketed investors, including Invesco Perpetual along with strategic investors and endowments, have already committed to putting into as much as $50 million of additional financing as co-investors into each program. Already, PureTech has invested in two new, undisclosed programs from the new financing: one a digital health device and another in early childhood nutrition. The firm will start two to four new programs a year, Zohar said. She said they currently have five projects with human proof-of-concept that are ready to be advanced into full programs. On PureTech's model, Zohar concluded, "We house them into companies and treat them like our pipeline. We don't want to exit the ones that are doing really well, like a biotech wouldn't look to sell off things that are attractive." - here is the release Related Articles: PureTech reels in $55M to fund new biotech bets Gelesis brings in $12M to advance its obesity pill PureTech's Tal Medical faces a clinical test of its rapid depression treatment JDRF, PureTech launch diabetes startup initiative
News Article | September 15, 2015
For a man who took a company from $17 million in sales to a $4.5 billion publicly traded juggernaut listed at #307 on Forbes 400 billionaires, John Brown is a remarkably humble man. He’s also, for all intents and purposes, the man who put Stryker (NYSE:SYK) on the map during his 32-year tenure as CEO, […]
News Article | September 9, 2015
Tal Medical said today it launched a dose optimization trial of its low field magnetic stimulation device designed to treat depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders. The company said it enrolled the 1st patient in the randomized, placebo-controlled 120-patient study, with data from the trial expected in early 2017. “Initiating the dose optimization study represents a significant […]
News Article | April 21, 2015
Tal Medical said today that it landed a $14 million Series B round it plans to use in backing clinical trials for its low-field magnetic stimulation technology as a non-invasive neurostimulation treatment for depression and bipolar disorder. Boston-based Tal Medical said existing backer PureTech, a new institutional investor and several "prominent" but unnamed individual investors. The cash will also go toward product development and to "scale up the organization," Tal said. President & CEO Jan Skvarka, the company’s 1st full-time chief executive, told MassDevice.com that the clinical-stage company is hoping to be 1 of the 1st to explore a potential new vertical for medtech: Psychiatry. "When I think of the medical device space, I think that there’s all these verticals – cardiology, $45 billion, orthopedics, $40 billion, imaging, urology and so on. We’re asking the question, ‘Is there a future in the medical device world where there is a vertical for psychiatry that is several billion dollars?’ We’re at the beginning of that vertical," Skvarka told us. If the early data proves out Tal Medical plans to go to a pivotal trial, possibly as soon as 2017, he said. "We have to validate the early results in large-scale clinical trials," Skvarka said. "Our new and existing investors understand the game-changing potential for Tal Medical to help people living with depression, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders," he noted in prepared remarks. "Their support is critical to advancing our efforts towards addressing a major unmet need in psychiatry by developing a safe, rapid-acting treatment for patients." Tal Medical also said it hired medtech veteran Mike Madden to be its executive vice president of product development and added Dr. Raju Kucherlapati of the Harvard Medical School to its board of directors.
News Article | September 9, 2015
PathMaker Neurosystems said it won expedited access pathway designation from the FDA for its MyoRegulator PM-2200 system, which is designed to treat muscle spasticity. The MyoRegulator device, based on PathMaker’s DoubleStim technology, is designed to provide simultaneous, non-invasive stimulation at spinal and peripheral locations, the Boston-based company said. In June PathMaker inked a deal with Proven Process […]