Senior college project evolves into a full-fledged medical technology start-up
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
What started out as a senior design project in 2013 for two biomedical engineering students at Georgia Tech is now a full-fledged start-up that is focused on a key cause of strokes in about 160,000 people annually.
Flow MedTech Inc. was co-founded by Arnab Chakraborty, a Johnson City resident, and Christine Hang, a South Carolina resident, about three years ago after their undergraduate project became a passion for them.
“Why stop,” Chakraborty says they asked themselves since they had discovered a unique technology solution to a serious problem and a market of sufficient size. Now, a number of competitions later, the company they founded has been selected for mentoring in the SC Launch program run by the South Carolina Research Authority.
Chakraborty, who serves as the start-up’s Chair and Chief Product Officer, says he and Hang were initially focused on Atrial Septal Defect in children which is described as a “hole” in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart.
“We did our customer discovery and learned there were only 2,000 pediatric cases a year,” Chakraborty explains. “It was not scalable as a business.”
The team’s second round of discovery led them to the issue of a high incidence of strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF). It’s a much larger problem with AF being the root cause for about one-fifth of the 800,000 people who suffer strokes annually.
“There’s not as much competition in this space,” Chakraborty says, adding that Flow MedTech’s technology solution is “vastly different” from other options.
The Co-Founder explains that AF is the most common heart arrhythmia in which the heart is irregularly beating. About 15 million patients have received that diagnosis globally. In untreated AF patients, the risk of suffering a stroke increases with age, reaching between 20 and 25 percent for those that are 70 years and older.
Due to irregular contractions from AF, blood may flow into an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage but may not flow out, causing the blood to remain there and harden, forming clots. Due to the irregular heart rhythm, these clots can break away and travel to the brain, causing a stroke. Research has shown that 90 percent of clots in the brain can be traced to this left atrial appendage.
“We are developing a customizable, implantable medical device that is delivered through a transcatheter, a minimally invasive technique,” Chakraborty explains. “The implant acts like a plug in the left atrial appendage (LAA) to prevent blood flow from entering and subsequent clots from forming.”
The team is now focused on raising capital with a goal of $550,000. Thus far, it has lined-up about $400,000, and Chakraborty says he has been pleased with the support Flow MedTech has found in Northeast Tennessee.
“We hope to close our initial funding by the end of this quarter,” he adds.
The Flow MedTech team won several student competitions while at Georgia Tech and has garnered several other key validations including being selected as a top five finalist in the Universal Biotech Innovation Prize contest in Paris. Perhaps none was more important thus far than a 12-week experience in Texas.
After graduating from Georgia Tech, the Flow MedTech team spent a good portion of the last half of 2015 participating in a Dallas-based program named Health Wildcatters, a mentor-driven seed accelerator.
“They really showed us how academic our pitch was,” Chakraborty says. “We spent every week refining our slide deck for investors.”
Flow MedTech developed its prototype during the Dallas activities. In addition, the start-up was a recent participant in the recent “Venture Match” hosted by Launch Tennessee and Life Science Tennessee.