Hopen invests in heart item

October 5, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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Hopen Therapeutics LLC, a Grand Rapids venture capital firm that invests in life science companies, has invested in NeoChord Inc., a company from Minnetonka, Minn., which is developing an innovative device invented at the Mayo Clinic to treat mitral valve regurgitation through a procedure that is less invasive than current treatments.

Hopen, founded in 2005, invested in Metabolic Solutions in 2006, and one year ago invested in a medical device start-up company in Grand Rapids called TransCorp, which develops instruments and implants related to spinal surgery.

Hopen co-invested in NeoChord with other Midwest venture capital firms, including Heron Capital of Indianapolis, Clarian Health Ventures of Indianapolis, Twilight Venture Partners of Indianapolis and T-Gap Ventures of Kalamazoo.

“This device has the potential to help hundreds of thousands of patients per year,” said Mark Olesnavage, president of Hopen Therapeutics. “Currently, there are 250,000 patients a year who are diagnosed with this condition, and half of those patients have their conditions graded as severe. Yet only 40 percent of patients with severe MVR conditions are able to have the issue corrected due to the invasive nature of current treatments.”

The current treatment is open heart surgery. While effective, the problem is that, in the process, the doctor must cut open the patient’s chest and stop the heart from beating. Many patients are either not sick enough to justify the risks of such invasive surgery or are too sick to withstand it.

During the NeoChord procedure, the doctor inserts the device through a small incision near the patient’s ribs. Once inside, the doctor uses the tool to attach an artificial chordae tendineae from the apex of the heart to the damaged heart valve. The chord’s length is then adjusted by the doctor until it appropriately restricts the movement of the valve to ensure that it closes properly.

The NeoChord device is expected to begin a European clinical trial shortly. A clinical trial in the U.S. is expected to begin in 2010.

MVR occurs when the mitral valve fails to close properly, causing blood to flow backwards into the left atrium. This causes the heart to pump harder, creating stress that can cause the heart to enlarge and eventually lead to atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure and other life threatening conditions. As many as one in five people age 55 and older has some degree of MVR, according to Hopen.

Hopen Therapeutics — the word "hopen" means "to hope" in Dutch, — was formed to provide "human and financial capital" that will expedite new life science product development, he said. Olesnavage does not reveal how much the firm has invested in any given start-up, but noted that "we've made seven-figure investments and we've made six-figure investments."

Metabolic Solutions Development Co. in Kalamazoo was one of its first investments. That company is developing "innovative therapeutics to address the growing global threat of type 2 diabetes," according to the Hopen Web site.

Other early investments by Hopen include Tolera Therapeutics in Kalamazoo, which began work in 2006 developing therapies for immune suppression and immune tolerance. Those drugs would be used in organ transplant surgeries and other medical settings requiring safer, more targeted immune modulation

According to Michbio.org, TransCorp Medical Inc. of Grand Rapids was co-founded in 2008 by David Lowry, a neurosurgeon and principal at the Brain and Spine Center in Holland. Other co-founders include Scott Tuinstra, a physician assistant at the Brain and Spine Center, Roger Veldman of the department of engineering at Hope College, and Des O'Farrell.

TransCorp was originally housed at the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative New Venture Center at the GVSU Cook DeVos Center for Health Sciences in Grand Rapids. In February, it "graduated" from the Venture Center, according to a WMSTI spokesperson, and moved to another location in Grand Rapids.

While Olesnavage is not at liberty to discuss the technical details of TransCorp's product development or progress it has made since last November, he said it involves a couple of devices they believe will be improvements on what's available in some types of spinal surgeries.

Olesnavage said Lowry was "working on it long before Hopen got involved," but "when they needed additional capital to really move things forward, that's when we invested."

Hopen also provides management expertise to the life science start-ups in which it invests. He said it is not uncommon for one of the principals at a venture capital firm "to get involved, at least on a short-term basis, within a company" inwhich it has decided to invest.

"We like to think of ourselves as a whole lot more than just writing the check," said Olesnavage.

Another company Hopen has invested in is MIDA LLC, a research and development drug therapeutic company focused on novel infectious disease indications, according to the Hopen Web site.

Members of the board of directors of Hopen include David Van Andel, CEO and chairman of the Van Andel Institute; William Nicholson, CEO of IdeaSphere Inc.; and Mike Jandernoa, former CEO and chairman of Perrigo Co. and now a principal/partner at Bridge Street Capital.

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