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VOL. 125 | NO. 17 | Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Medical Imaging Makes Gains In Memphis

By Tom Wilemon

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“Anytime you are bringing that kind of capital into the community, anytime you are partering with major players like Seimens and Boston Scientific and others, you’ve got to say that’s a pretty major deal. Really, a lot of credit goes to SurgiVision for pulling those things together.”

– Steve Bares, Memphis Bioworks Foundation

Medical imaging is a fast-growing component of the health care industry, but one that has been slow to take root in Memphis.

That could be changing. SurgiVision Inc., which has quietly been filing new patents for MRI technology and attracting millions of dollars from research partners, is about to go public.

Christie Digital Systems, the new owner of the Memphis-developed VeinViewer technology, plans to become a full-fledged player in the medical imaging industry.

Besides being a base for these commercial stakeholders, the city offers a university research program in bioimaging through the Joint Program in Biomedical Engineering, a collaboration between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the University of Memphis. Each year, the universities host the Memphis Bioimaging Symposium so scientists, engineers, students and clinicians can stay abreast of the latest innovations.

“We have research going on in imaging that has been a cornerstone of that program for a long time,” said Steve Bares, president of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. “In as much as the university continues to build that, you are going to continue to see innovations and, hence, companies. That is exactly why we encourage research in that area.”

Shedding light

The VeinViewer was developed in Memphis.

However, the technology behind SurgiVision grew from discoveries by researchers in the mid-1990s at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The company is developing technology to allow physicians to see inside the brain and heart using MRI guidance while performing minimally invasive procedures.

Late last month, SurgiVision announced it planned to raise $30 million through an initial public offering. The date for the IPO has not been set, but the company plans to offer its stock on Nasdaq under the SRGV trading symbol.

Company officials are not talking to the media in advance of the IPO. SurgiVision’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, however, reveals a great deal about the company.

SurgiVision, which was formed in 1998, has already attracted attention from two giants in the bioimaging industry.

Boston Scientific paid SurgiVision $13 million in 2008 and has agreed to pay $21.6 million in future milestone-based payments and royalties for the SafeLead Development Program. The agreement between the two companies will allow Boston Scientific to incorporate the Memphis company’s MRI-safety technologies into Boston Scientific’s implantable cardiac and neuromodulation leads.

Seimens is a partner in developing another product, the ClearTrace Cardiac Intervention System. This product will give doctors a new tool for treating atrial fibrillation, a heart condition that affects more than 3 million people in the United States.

Siemens is developing the software for this product, and SurgiVision is obligated to pay the company up to $2.5 million in future milestone payments for the successful development of the software.

“Anytime you are bringing that kind of capital into the community, anytime you are partnering with major players like Seimens and Boston Scientific and others, you’ve got to say that’s a pretty major deal,” Bares said. “Really, a lot of credit goes to SurgiVision for pulling those things together.”

Liquid assets

SurgiVision’s most advanced product candidate is being developed internally without a partner. The ClearPoint Neuro Intervention System will allow doctors to better target areas in the brain for minimally invasive neurological procedures.

In total, SurgiVision has 35 patents and 101 patent applications in its portfolio. All of its technologies still require regulatory approval.

The technology behind the VeinViewer, which Christie just acquired in purchasing substantially all the assets of Luminetx, was developed in Memphis by Herb Zeman, a professor from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center who has since retired.

After Christie closed the acquisition, the company announced it will create a new medical products division called Christie Medical Holdings Inc.

The VeinViewer allows medical practitioners to see subcutaneous veins by projecting a real-time image of them onto the surface of the skin. Although the company sold its product globally, Luminetx was running out of money when Christie acquired it.

Christie has said it will keep the Memphis-based operations here.

“That organization, whether it’s under Luminetx or now under Christie, is part of the mosaic that makes this community innovative and rich with talent,” Bares said. “We’re pleased that they are staying.”

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