Original Article from Denver Business Journal
Denver-area companies Surefire Medical Inc. and Intio share a lot of traits that distinguish them from typical bioscience companies.
They’re small and built to stay lean. Both jumped into what’s known as “interventional oncology,” an emerging way of treating cancer and a potentially large new market for medical technology.
And the way Surefire and Intio have evolved makes them more closely resemble tech software startups than is usual in the medical device industry.
“We make a lot of decisions to go fast and reduce our burn,” said Jim Chomas, CEO and founder of Surefire. “A lot of VC-backed device companies spend a lot of time building infrastructure. We focused on getting to market as quickly as we could.”
Westminster-based Surefire Medical makes a specialized catheter that radiologists and oncologists use to deliver liquid beads of chemotherapy or radiation directly into the cancerous part of a patient’s liver.
Unlike standard catheters, Surefire’s has a tiny, soft expandable tip designed to prevent treatment infusions from spreading beyond the blood vessels where it’s being delivered. Targeting the infusion makes the treatment more effective, and reduces side effects.
Surefire formed in 2009 and won U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval to sell its catheter last fall.
“Interventional oncology” is a broad term for a treatment style used on cancers considered non-operable. It’s a market that covers most U.S. cancer diagnoses.
In the past 10 years, radiologists have pioneered the direct delivery of cancer drugs, or tumor ablation — the freezing or burning of internal tumors using tiny probes — to slow the disease’s spread and extend patient lives, often longer than traditional treatments. Advances in medical imaging made it possible to precisely located and target tumors for treatment allows for this.
Surefire’s evolution has been at lightning speed compared to most bioscience companies.
A little over two years after starting, Surefire’s catheter has been used to treat 178 patients at 49 U.S. hospitals, including Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree.
Surefire doubled its staff to 30 this winter, fueled by a $6.1 million venture capital infusion. Ten of Surefire’s employees work out of its headquarters. Most of the rest work in its assembly plant in Miami.
Chomas, a physician, and Surefire’s other founders worked directly with radiologists to modify existing devices to create a new style of treatment. A lot of biotech companies spend a lot of time trying to perfect a new technology.
“We went a different way, which is to hit a future market,” Chomas said.
He’s a veteran of the medical device industry who moved to Colorado from Silicon Valley, where he worked at a medical device startup incubator called The Foundry.
Intio, based in Broomfield, formed in 2005 to develop a technology meant to give doctors real-time, 3-D images that helps them target their tumor ablation procedures and measure the results of treatments as they’re happening.
Intio CEO Morgan Nields previously started and led Denver-based Fischer Imaging, a company that developed mammography technology. He left the company in 2003 and started Intio after two years researching trends in cancer imaging.
A VC arm of Johnson & Johnson led an $8.1 million investment in Intio in 2010. Intio received FDA clearance late last year.
The first two of Intio’s systems are being readied for use in clinics at Sky Ridge and at the University of Colorado medical school, Nields said.
Intio’s core technology is its 3-D imaging software, which the 15-employee company plans to improve continuously.
Its systems’ hardware is off-the-shelf computing technology with powerful graphics processors for video games.
Intio plans to sign customers to service maintenance agreements allowing them to upgrade their Intio machines as commercial technology evolves, Nields said.