Purdue researcher harbors high hopes for new venture

November 3, 2012
As a researcher at Purdue University, Pete Kissinger’s goal of converting his discoveries into actual companies is in his blood.

Kissinger’s latest venture, West Lafayette-based Phlebotics Inc., is based on a computer-operated blood testing system that he says analyzes blood in hospital patients far more accurately.

The company has no paid employees and generates no revenue, due to a lack of venture capital to mass-produce the device. But Kissinger, 67, hopes Phlebotics will follow in the footsteps of another of his creations, Bioanalytical Systems Inc., also located in West Lafayette.

Bioanalytical is a publicly traded contract-research organization that tests experimental drug molecules for pharmaceutical companies to help the companies prepare for human testing.

Kissinger and his wife, Candice, stepped down from the company’s management team in 2007—a departure that appeared to be forced. But they took one technology with them that they’re using to build Phlebotics.

“As part of the going-away present, we got something that we think is of great value,” Kissinger said. “The board of directors of the company did not want to pursue that, and we very much do.”

Bioanalytical Systems’ financial struggles at the time prevented the company from pursuing clinical applications and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the technology, Kissinger said.

The device, about the size of a drug-infusion pump mounted to a patient’s IV pole, collects blood samples from hospitalized patients in emergency, intensive care or critical care situations when time is of the essence.

A cancer patient, for instance, might be dosed with a dozen drugs that have never been tested together. So an oncologist simply might estimate dosage based on experience with different patients.

Kissinger’s phlebot device collects blood samples that are fed to a mass spectrometer near the patient, making correct drug concentrations available to a physician within minutes.

“What we’re trying to do is take the guessing out of the chemistry we have in blood,” he said. “When we have patients who are fragile, or have had a transplant, things are changing much more quickly. We’d like to make the process of monitoring much better than it is today.”

The heavy lifting to meet certain FDA criteria is completed. Since the technology is not an actual drug but a device, the requirements are less stringent. Two human trials have been completed, clearing the way for Phlebotics to take the device to market.

There’s just one obstacle, and it’s a big one. The still-stumbling economy is weighing on Phlebotics’ ability to attract enough venture capital to mass-produce the device to get it to market.

About $10 million has been invested in the technology, much of it raised during Kissinger’s time at Bioanalytical Systems. He estimated Phlebotics needs up to $6 million over the next three years to get the device ready for mass use.

Kissinger’s struggles to attract funding are all too familiar to David Johnson, CEO of the Indianapolis-based life sciences development group BioCrossroads.

For the past four years, entrepreneurs have found it harder to access venture capital, no matter what technology they might be promoting, he said. But the difficulties seem particularly apparent for biotech companies.

“Venture firms are still out there, and they are relatively well-funded, even though there are fewer of them than there were a few years back,” Johnson said. “But they’re investing in companies at later stages, and they’re also taking much longer in the courtship and due-diligence stages to decide to make an investment.”

What Phlebotics has going for it, though, even beyond Kissinger’s scientific background, is access to office and lab space at Purdue’s Discovery Park. On top of that, scientists formerly from the likes of heavyweights Eli Lilly and Co., Guidant Corp. and Roche Diagnostics Corp. are lending their talent to help refine the technology.

Kissinger is a part-time instructor within Purdue’s chemistry department and has taught at the university for 32 years.

Besides Bioanalytical Systems, Kissinger helped found Indianapolis-based Prosolia Inc. It develops mass-spectrometry devices used in the life sciences and industrial chemistry.

Kissinger served as Prosolia’s CEO from 2005 to 2010 and now has turned his full attention to Phlebotics.

“We have a technology here that we think has a fabulous upside over time,” Kissinger said.•

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