28 October 2008

Aleva Neuro ~ Implantable Brain Electrodes

Tonight my MIT Neurotechnology Ventures colleagues Ed Boyden, Rutledge Ellis-Behnke, Barbara Barry and I hosted special guest speaker, Aleva Neurotherapeutics CEO & co-founder Paul Pyzowski, who spoke about lessons-learned and his advice for Crafting the Neurotech Business Plan, especially:
  • Honing in on the target market and products;
  • With a core technology platform, what's the first application;
  • How to identify and connect with customers;
  • What's in a great plan;
  • Building the actual business.
Aleva's core technology was initially developed at EPFL in Switzerland. They first explored various possibilities including cochlear and retinal implants as well as implantable neurostimulation systems, including Spinal Cord stim for pain management, Vagus Nerve Stimulation for epilepsy treatment, and finally DBS for Parkinson's / Movement Disorders. This last area is where Aleva honed in on. Parkinson's affects 2 Million people in the US, over 5 Million worldwide. Drug therapies lose efficacy after 5-7 years. Implantable solutions are emerging and there are several competitive players here. The procedure is difficult, to say the least, with the patient awake during the surgery which can last hours. Lots of side-effects, high need for re-operating, and more. But with clear-cut unmet clinical needs, a high-growth opportunity, other potential indications, and an interesting competitive landscape where the technology allowed Aleva to really differentiate. Paul touched on all the sections of their plan, including Target Market, Product Line, Technology, Customer Payment, Business Model, Regulatory & Clinical Issues, and finally, Financing Narrative, telling the story in a coherent and compelling fashion. Paul showed some neuromodulation funding data, including NeuroVista raising $33.8M Series B, Nevro raising $22M Series A (with a $5.5M Seed round), and CVRx raising $85M in a Series E! Lots of acquisitions including St Jude buying Advanced Neuromodulation Systems, Metronics buying Transneuronix, and Boston Scientific buying Advanced Bionics. Some of these are failures as investments, and there are unfortunately visible disasters, including Northstar Neuroscience which went public raising some $100M but stock plummeted to nearly 1/10th. This is a hard space to do business in!
Today Aleva Neurotheropeutics is an early-stage medical device startup developing implantable microelectrodes used in Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) therapy for neurological diseases. Aleva's target customers are the neurosurgeons who perform Deep Brain Stimulation therapy using implantable neurostimulators and who want to improve the efficiency and success rate of the therapy while decreasing surgery time and complexity. Paul spotlighted some cool aspects of Aleva history, including successful participation in business plan competitions, raising innovation grants, and the power of the US-Swiss venture network -- the link between Paul and his CTO co-founder was brokered by MIT alumnus Pascal Marmier, Consul-Director of swissnex here in Cambridge, MA. The business remains a geo-hybrid, co-located with R&D in Lausanne, Switzerland and business operations in Boston-metro in the USA.

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