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August 19, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Vascugenix develops device to improve guidewire manipulation during heart surgery

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The second annual edition of the “HealthTech Accelerator,” sponsored by Erlanger Health System and Unum and coordinated by CO.LAB, is underway in Chattanooga. We are spotlighting the companies participating in the program in a series of articles. Today’s feature focuses on Vascugenix.)

The Little Rock team that has developed a device to improve guidewire manipulation during heart surgery is one of the participants in the second annual edition of the “HealthTech Accelerator” in Chattanooga.

“The problem is the current product on the market is a two-hand device,” says Dwight Chrisman, an Interventional Cardiologist and Founder of Vascugenix, the start-up commercializing his invention called the Speed-Torque. It is designed to improve the process of guidewire manipulation during percutaneous coronary and peripheral artery interventions to ensure the stent is being positioned properly in an artery.

For anyone undergoing the procedure, that’s very important.

“So many times, I have to take my eyes off the patient to reposition the device on the wire,” Chrisman explained during a recent interview. “With our device, you never lose hand-eye coordination.”

The Speed-Torque has a unique, patented design that enables physicians to manipulate a guidewire comfortably with one hand, freeing up the surgeon’s other hand to enable him or her to focus on the patient and the percutaneous guidewire rather than on the torque device.

“Speed-Torque will ultimately save surgeons time, hospitals money, and improve patient safety,” Chrisman believes. He holds board certifications in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, interventional cardiology, and nuclear cardiology. Chrisman’s specialty interests in cardiology include high-risk artery intervention, carotid artery stenting, renal artery and lower extremity intervention, and acute heart attack intervention and recovery.

With those qualifications, it’s no surprise that his experience precipitated the idea for the Speed-Torque. “I’m a tinker kind of guy, and I started getting ideas on making things better during my Fellowship at The University Texas Health Science Center,” Chrisman said. “The idea (for the Speed-Torque) started getting in my head in 2014.”

As the concept gained momentum, he met Noah Asher, then a University of Arkansas senior who had worked with start-ups in college and had previously participated in the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program as an Entrepreneurial Lead. Asher successfully submitted the Speed-Torque for presentation at the 2019 edition of the prestigious “Rice Business Plan Competition.”

“We were extremely pleased with how we (the idea) performed,” Asher told us, so the company was founded in June 2019. He is the Chief Executive Officer for what is currently a four-person operation, while Chrisman is Chief Medical Officer.

Early on, the Vascugenix team sought input from surgeons. “I had served on several hospital procurement committees, so I knew the importance of their buy-in,” Chrisman explained. “Let’s make sure this is competitive.” He asked the surgeons to play with the Speed-Torque on a bench, not on a patient.

“One doctor said it was like the difference between driving a manual and an automatic (transmission) vehicle,” Asher said, adding that over 30 doctors have already expressed interest in using the device.

The Vascugenix team incorporated the preferences of the surgeons into the final design of the Speed-Torque. At this stage, pilot testing is underway, and the management team is finishing requirements from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to be a 510(k) Exempt Class II product.

“We hope to be in the market by the end of September,.” Asher says.

As far as the start-up’s reasons for applying to the “HealthTech Accelerator” operated by CO.LAB, he cites the partnership with Erlanger Health System, one of the two sponsors. The other is Unum.

“They can help us further understand the clinical benefits,” Asher says. “We are incredibly excited to be in the position we are with the accelerator.”


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