A Publication of WTVP

Harry Rowland is a cofounder and chief technology officer of Endotronix, a company developing an implantable medical device to monitor patients’ blood pressure without the mobility restrictions of current devices on the market. If the product is successful, it could lead to dramatic reductions in the risk of stroke and heart attack. Formed in 2007 by Rowland and Dr. Anthony Nunez, a cardiothoracic surgeon, Endotronix was the first company to graduate from the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center.

Describe your background. How did you end up in the Peoria area?
I am a military brat and moved frequently as a child. In all my moves, though, I had never lived in the Midwest. My wife was working for Caterpillar for several years while I finished up my graduate degree at Georgia Tech. As I was finishing my PhD, I was looking to spin out my research into a startup company in the life science area. I started interviewing physicians and shadowing surgical procedures to learn about healthcare markets. While visiting Peoria, I happened to meet one innovative and energetic heart surgeon, Dr. Anthony Nunez. That meeting ultimately led to Endotronix and a rather unusual Peoria startup story.

What is your role with the company?
As a cofounder, I’ve been involved with the company’s day-to-day operations since day one. My title has changed over the years, but I’ve always been responsible for moving the technology forward and building a team with world-class expertise—no matter where that expertise happens to be located.

How did your background prepare you for this role?
I’ve always been interested in the intersection of the startup business world and advanced technologies. I studied both engineering and economics while in college, and then chose to further my technical education in graduate school, always with an interest in learning how technologies could transition from the research setting into the commercialization process.

Describe your company’s flagship product and its value proposition for the healthcare system.
Endotronix’s product includes a tiny implantable sensor that enables simple, safe daily measurement of internal heart pressures from a patient’s home. Much like diabetic patients need to closely monitor their blood sugar to properly manage their disease, heart failure patients need to monitor their internal heart pressures. But until now, there simply has not been a technology that makes these measurements practical.

Knowing these pressures allows clinicians to better titrate a patient’s medications, which has profound implications for congestive heart failure patients. Daily monitoring of internal heart pressures—and adjusting meds to lower and control those pressures—has been proven to improve a patient’s quality of life and dramatically reduce hospitalizations. Ultimately, our product can improve patient outcomes while at the same time significantly reduce the overall costs to the healthcare system.

How did the idea come about?
People have been trying to monitor internal heart pressures outside of the hospital setting for a long time, but unfortunately, none of the previous attempts have completed the commercialization process. It’s a very challenging area. Knowing the importance of these pressures in his clinical practice, Dr. Anthony Nunez believed there had to be a better way to provide care for his patients. He sought out an understanding of microsensors and wireless technologies, and through that search, the two of us were introduced. I had a background in the technology, Dr. Nunez knew about the clinical markets, and both of our families had been impacted by heart failure. We both were dreamers, so we launched Endotronix with a vision of enabling convenient wireless pressure monitoring to improve treatment of various cardiovascular diseases.

Discuss the R&D work that has gone into developing the product.
Endotronix’s product is somewhat unique in that it combines a variety of advanced technologies into one. We need expertise in catheter delivery systems, wireless communications, microsensor fabrication and advanced packaging for harsh environments, let alone all the other industry-specific regulatory, reimbursement and general commercialization challenges. That expertise does not necessarily exist in one location anywhere in the world. However, we were very fortunate that some excellent wireless technology engineering happens to be right here in our backyard in Peoria. We partnered with Validus Technologies, who employs several Bradley University grads, early on in our project. They had the skills, expertise and creativity we needed to help develop the core technology behind Endotronix today. We perform a lot of work with other contract R&D entities across the country, but our work in Peoria has always been essential to our key differentiating wireless technology.

Describe the process for licensing patents from NASA. How did that come about?

Dr. Nunez was introduced to technology from NASA early in the history of Endotronix. NASA had previously developed some interesting, ultra-miniature sensor intellectual property as part of its mission to protect the health of astronauts. We were incredibly pleased with how open and helpful the staff at NASA was, especially for working with a fledgling company like ours at the time of the license process. NASA was, and remains, very supportive of our commercialization efforts and our goal to ultimately improve the lives of patients.

What are your top priorities for 2012?
Keep moving Endotronix forward!

Talk about the challenges of securing funding and protecting your intellectual property.
The financing topic could take an entire book. The financial markets are very, very challenging, particularly for medical-device companies that require a lengthy approval process by the FDA. But we’ve been very fortunate to succeed in fundraising efforts largely outside the traditional routes. Intellectual property is a separate, but critical issue. As a company that requires years of development and investment before entering the market and generating revenues, our lifeline to creating value is through developing defensible intellectual property. We have invested heavily in our intellectual property, not just in the U.S., but internationally.

Tell us about your experiences with Peoria NEXT.
The Peoria NEXT Innovation Center was absolutely critical to our success. More important than the building is all the hard work and visionary leadership behind the scenes that creates a small ecosystem that can help foster and guide early-stage companies. There are too many names to list here to thank, but those who work to support entrepreneurship in the area do all the little things that add up and make a difference. Of the many things the Center has done to support us, perhaps the most fundamental was introducing me to Anthony! We would not have met without the Center as the focal point where we both went for direction. Since then, the area continues to strengthen its ability to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.

Endotronix also has an office in Ohio. What are the company’s ties there?
We have strong ties to the Cleveland area. Shortly after we founded the company, Anthony received additional training at the Cleveland Clinic to become a specialist in heart and lung transplantation and the placement of ventricular assist devices. He moved to Cleveland and began networking. We were fortunate to receive additional support from Ohio, in both state grants and private investment. We have performed significant medical device engineering and pre-clinical work in Ohio, and continue to conduct business in the area. iBi