VueKlar enhances cardiovascular treatments

VueKlar Cardiovascular is developing cardiovascular implants with proprietary features that bring substantial benefits to patients, to clinicians, and to hospitals.

The company recently completed its first round of funding, a £300,000 package of equity, loan, and a SMART grant award. Three Israeli investors, professional contacts of VueKlar’s founder and chief medical officer Dr Andreas Melzer, were joined in the investment by the founders and by the Scottish Investment Bank’s Scottish Seed Fund. The principal investor is one of Israel’s leading surgeons in minimally-invasive procedures, and is a successful entrepreneur and medical device investor. His co-investor is another leading Israeli physician, and the third is a medical device entrepreneur who was most recently CEO of a surgical implant business.

Andreas Melzer has 25 years’ experience researching and developing technologies and procedures for minimally invasive therapies. His particular speciality is MRI-guided therapies. He has been involved in eight companies founded on the back of his IP, and he is the inventor of VueKlar’s core technology. His co-founder Richard Boyd has expertise in the commercialisation of new products and technology. At PRTM, an operations management consultancy, he helped bring over 20 new products successfully to market for several large technology companies like Agilent Technologies and Nokia. In Scotland Boyd started a business, Mainstay Innovation, providing interim management and business development services to research organisations and young tech companies.

Cardiovascular implants include occluders, stents, prosthetic heart valves, and filters. They are all implanted in a minimally invasive procedure, in which the implant is compressed into a tube or catheter which is inserted into the body, often at the top of the leg, and threaded through the blood vessels to the point where it is positioned and released.

X-ray and ultrasound-based imaging techniques are used to see inside the body and guide implant placement and carry out subsequent follow-up examinations. MRI would be a better technique, because of the drawbacks of using x-rays (radiation dosages, and toxic contrast agents for the imaging) or ultrasound (probes are inserted down the throat, causing serious discomfort, infection and sometimes tissue damage). Aside from the patient problems associated with other methods, MRI gives clinicians superior images, with excellent soft tissue imaging and blood flow data. Overall, using MRI is less invasive and safer for patients, offers better imaging for clinicians, and better financial outcomes for hospitals.

The problem – well recognised by clinicians – is that cardiovascular implants do not image well in an MRI. The metallic structures of implants interfere with the MRI signals and severely compromise the images in and around the implants. So whereas MRI is the method of choice for diagnosis and the planning of surgery, the imaging issues mean that MRI has not up to now been a viable option for guiding implant placement or for follow-up examinations. Furthermore, future diagnostics by MRI are prevented if there is an implant in the region of interest.

VueKlar has developed MR-enhancement technology which not only removes the interference, but also increases image contrast by 3 to 4 times the native MRI image. As a result, it is possible to make a detailed examination of the implant and of the tissues around it, without the need for contrast agent. The immediate benefit is to enable the use of MRI for follow-up examinations and any future diagnostics in the same part of the body; this is better for the patient, better for the clinician, and actually cheaper for the hospital, and no change is needed to the hospital’s equipment set up. MR-enhancement in the right hand half of the pictured stent shows how MRI can now be used to check for common complications such as a blood clot (as shown). VueKlar implants also open the door to MRI-guided implantation, so MRI can become a ‘one stop shop’ for all the procedures, with the attendant benefits for patients, clinicians and hospitals.

The company’s initial business model is contract development, licensing and potentially manufacturing MR-enhancement technology for other implant manufacturers. A partnership with a reputable implant manufacturer validates the demand for the technology; the subsequent commercial launch of a device and its success in the clinic validates clinical and commercial benefits.

The company estimates that a single implant could bring contract development worth over £1m, and future royalties of between £1m and £5m per year. Further revenue is anticipated from manufacturing the technology. The company has developed prototype stents, filters, heart valves and occluders and has successfully demonstrated these through animal trials. Its technology is protected by a portfolio of nearly 50 granted or pending patents, and significant proprietary expertise. It has begun approaching manufacturers about integrating its technology in next generation devices, and has recently signed its first deal.

The £300,000 investment completed in February is being used to secure an initial development agreement with an implant manufacturer, to develop a demonstrator of one of its own, proprietary implants, and to identify key hires for the next stage in the company’s development. Assisted by DC Consulting, VueKlar is preparing for the next funding round in the second half of this year, to build its development operation in support of its contract development and licensing business model.