By Mary Vanac
Syncro Medical Innovations raised an additional $500,000 in a debt offering it plans to use to more aggressively push an improved version of its innovative feeding tube to market.
The Youngstown, Ohio-based startup has been selling the Syncro BlueTube feeding tube to at least one hospital for four years. But after investing $2 million over the last two years to significantly change the tube’s design — and get it through another Food & Drug Administration approval — the company now needs more money to pay for a big marketing push.
“In the last six months, we’ve aggressively started to take this product to market domestically,” Gary Wakeford, Syncro Medical’s president, told a Careers in High-Tech Manufacturing seminar produced by WVIZ Ideastream in March.
Syncro Medical raised $500,000 in debt from investors in December, according to a Securities & Exchange Commission filing. An amended filing early this month shows that a total of $800,000 in debt securities now have been sold. Prior to December, Syncro Medical raised $500,000 in an August 2009 debt offering and won a $350,000 Ohio Third Frontier grant in May 2008.
In February 2006, the company raised $2.2 million in an equity offering during its first fundraising round. Norwich Ventures of Cambridge, Mass., led that round.
Originally named the Gabriel Post Pyloric Feeding Tube, Syncro Medical’s tube is designed to dispense nutrition in the small intestines of critically ill patients.
“It’s a tube that would be used in somebody in the intensive care unit, critical care unit and particularly the burn unit,” Wakeford told vocational school students who attended the seminar remotely from their schools.
While other types of feeding tubes deliver food to patients’ stomachs, the BlueTube delivers food to the “small bowel” — the upper part of the small intestine known as the duodenum.
“The absorption rate of nutrients is 80 times greater there than it is in the stomach,” Wakeford said. “So if you’re a burn patient, a trauma patient or a critically ill patient, this can save your life.”
The trick is getting the leading end of the tube through the stomach and into the small intestine. Any feeding tube enters the stomach at a 30-degree angle, pointing toward a patient’s left side, Wakeford said. But the duodenal opening is below the stomach toward the patient’s right side.
“So it’s very difficult to get the tube from here, way over here,” Wakeford said, demonstrating the directional problem, “particularly when this is a blind procedure. You can kind of feel where you’re at, but you don’t know.”
Dr. Sabry Gabriel, an orthopedic surgeon and primary care physician in a small hospital outside of Macon, Ga., designed the feeding tube with a magnet built into its leading end. A magnet on the outside of the body is used to move the feeding tube into the small intestine.
Gabriel, a Syncro Medical director, came up with his idea as a resident after working halfway through a 36-hour shift.
“He almost fainted because he had been 18 hours without sleep or food,” Wakeford said. “It dawned on him, he had two critically ill patients who couldn’t be fed because they couldn’t get the feeding tube where it needed to be.”
How would healthcare workers know they had successfully grabbed the tube with the external magnet? A red LED on the trailing end of the tube lights up when the magnet on the tube has been “captured” by the magnet on the outside of the body, he said.
But there was still a problem. Nurses at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, who began using the tube four years ago, were afraid its magnet would cause patients serious injury if they ever needed MRI procedures.
“So we spent two years and $2 million fixing that problem,” Wakeford said, redesigning the tube so that its magnet stack is removed after it is positioned.
“When we bought the original product from Dr. Gabriel, we thought it was market-ready,” Wakeford said of the 2005 start of his company. It wasn’t.
After its redesign, “the product has the potential to take over $1 billion of cost out of the healthcare industry each year,” he said. “So there is a real need for this product.”