Improving Heart Surgery: Georgia Tech and Emory University Startup Receives $5.1 Million Investment

Apica Cardiovascular co-founders James Green, Vinod Thourani, Jorge Jimenez and Ajit Yoganathan (left to right) point to the location on a heart model where their heart surgery system attaches. (Credit: Gary Meek)

Apica Cardiovascular co-founders James Green, Vinod Thourani, Jorge Jimenez and Ajit Yoganathan (left to right) point to the location on a heart model where their heart surgery system attaches. (Credit: Gary Meek)

A Georgia Tech and Emory University medical device startup that has developed a system to simplify and standardize the technique for opening and closing the beating heart during cardiac surgery has received a $5.1 million investment.

Apica Cardiovascular has licensed the Georgia Tech/Emory technology and will further develop the system, which will make the transapical access and closure procedure required for delivering therapeutic devices to the heart more routine for all surgeons. The goal is to expand the use of surgery techniques that are less invasive and do not require stopping the heart.

“Our company has leveraged the expertise in cardiovascular technology at Georgia Tech and the clinical experience of surgeons at Emory University to develop a technology that has the potential to revolutionize the delivery of different types of medical devices to the heart, including aortic and mitral valves,” said the company’s CEO James Greene.

With research and development support from the Coulter Foundation Translational Research Program and the Georgia Research Alliance VentureLab program, the company has already completed a series of pre-clinical studies to test the functionality of their device and its biocompatibility.

The improved heart surgery system consists of a conduit with proprietary technology inside that allows the conduit to be securely attached to the beating heart. Surgeons can then deliver therapeutic devices, such as heart valves or left ventricular assist devices, into the beating heart without loss of blood or exposure to air. Once a therapeutic device has been delivered and surgery is complete, the company’s system closes and seals the access site with a biocompatible implant. The closure site can be reopened if necessary.

“By minimizing the incision size to gain access to the beating heart and eliminating the need for conventional sutures, our system improves safety, decreases procedure time and reduces the technical challenges associated with these new minimally invasive procedures,” explained Vinod Thourani, an associate professor of surgery and associate director of the Structural Heart Center in Emory University’s Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

With the new investment from Ireland-based Seroba Kernel Life Sciences and Israel-based TriVentures, the company will continue to conduct research and pre-clinical trials in Atlanta, ultimately leading up to regulatory approval. These efforts will be led by Jorge H. Jimenez, the chief technology officer of the company, which is in the VentureLab process at ATDC, Georgia Tech’s startup company accelerator.

“Our goal is to accelerate and expand the adoption of less-invasive therapeutic procedures to a greater number of surgeons and as a result, many underserved patients will receive needed treatment for valve disease and end-stage heart failure,” said Ajit Yoganathan, Regents professor and Wallace H. Coulter Distinguished Faculty Chair in Biomedical Engineering in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

The startup will also have an office in Ireland, which will benefit from the strong research collaborations between Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Ireland and the National University of Ireland, Galway.

“We seek to contribute to and benefit from a global innovation ecosystem in ways that accelerate research results to the market while enhancing economic development opportunities here in Georgia,” said Stephen E. Cross, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research. “Apica Cardiovascular is a perfect example of the synergy between our leading edge work in Atlanta, our Irish translational unit GT Ireland, and our partnership with the National University of Ireland, Galway.”

Apica Cardiovascular was founded in 2009 based on technology invented by Jimenez, Thourani, Yoganathan and Thomas Vassiliades, who was an associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Emory University at the time. The company was named Emory University’s Startup Company of 2010.

About ATDC:

The Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) is a startup accelerator that helps technology entrepreneurs in Georgia launch and build successful companies. Founded in 1980, ATDC has graduated more than 120 companies, which together have raised more than a billion dollars in outside financing. In 2010, ATDC was named to Forbes Magazine’s list of the “10 technology incubators that are changing the world.”

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Writer: Abby Robinson

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