Startup receives first Indiana Seed Fund investment: Purdue-bred SonarMed plans move to Indianapolis

Until recently, SonarMed Inc., a startup developing a new type of breathing tube, was just a mailbox at Purdue University.

But having recently been awarded the first investment from the BioCrossroads’ Indiana Seed Fund, SonarMed plans to move into office space in Indianapolis, hire 15 to 20 employees before the end of the year and begin seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for its device.

The Indiana Seed Fund was formed last summer and now has $6 million to begin doling out to life sciences startups.

The fund’s investment committee selected SonarMed as its first recipient and will give the firm $250,000.

Seed funding provides young firms-generally less than 18 months old-with capital once an idea or technology has been developed, but before the company can obtain traditional venture capital funding.

SonarMed, along with other life sciences startups statewide, sent proposals to BioCrossroads, which had begun soliciting ideas to decide which firm to invest in first.

“SonarMed is a really exciting company,” said Nora Doherty, BioCrossroads chief financial officer and director of the fund. “It comes with talent-people who can take this idea to market.”

The idea-developed at Purdue University-is a device that uses sound waves to help position and monitor breathing tubes in patients.

The traditional monitor method is to take an X-ray to make sure the tube hasn’t shifted or become kinked, something a caretaker might not immediately be aware has happened.

The intubation procedure itself can be difficult in terms of positioning the tube correctly and quickly, especially when the patient is experiencing seizures or other physical trauma.

And to check that the tube is clear, health care professionals sometimes have to manually remove and inspect the tube or continually suction it. The procedure isn’t always necessary, but it’s the easiest way to check for blockage.

Those are unpleasant and often painful procedures for the patient, said Greg Ayers, an adviser to SonarMed who was involved in setting up the company about a year ago.

SonarMed’s Smart Tubes system, which is still in the prototype stage, is a 2-1/2-inch-long, 1-inch-in-diameter piece of molded plastic with a speaker that sends sound waves through the breathing tube into the lungs and back to a microphone monitoring system.

Because the device requires less invasive monitoring, the patient is able to stay more comfortable, which improves the quality of care, said Ayers, whose son was intubated the traditional way for 21 days after a motor vehicle accident.

Continual suctioning every four to six hours and more than 20 X-rays were required to check the position of the 18-year-old’s tube.

Ayers acknowledges a strong motivation to see SonarMed’s Smart Tubes technology make it to market. And with the technology developed, the next step involves hiring people to turn the idea into a product that can pass regulatory hurdles.

That takes money, of course.

“Until we got the BioCrossroads money, we were limited in what we could do …” said Ayers, who has been involved with founding, financing and running several early-stage biomedical device companies on the West Coast.

While the group has received $1 million from the National Institutes of Health, those funds must be used strictly for research and development. That money cannot be used for regulatory filings and other business development needs, such as renting office space and hiring engineers.

“The BioCrossroads money will now fund our operations where we need it for the next six to nine months,” Ayers said.

The group is negotiating a lease for space on the northwest side of Indianapolis. It has also hired Andrew Cittadine as CEO.

Cittadine, 34, spent time as an engineer with Motorola Inc. before starting a medical imaging firm in California in the late 1990s. He sold the company last year to Siemens AG and returned to the Midwest where he grew up.

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