Industry Pioneers and Newcomers Meet at 2012 Neurotech Leaders Forum
About 80 executives and entrepreneurs from the neurotechnology industry met in San Francisco earlier this month for the 2012 Neurotech Leaders Forum, organized by Neurotech Reports. Platinum sponsor for the two-day event was Cirtec Medical Systems, while Stellar Technologies participated as silver sponsor. Other sponsors included Micro Systems Technologies, Neurotech Network, and the International Neuromodulation Society.
The first day of the event was devoted to clinical applications of implanted neurostimulation systems. Keynote speaker Jaimie Henderson, director of stereotactic and functional neurosurgery at Stanford University, gave attendees an update on new directions in optogenetic systems.
Henderson said that optogenetics devices offered several advantages, including the ability to effect transduction regardless of axon size. He suggested that first in man trials would most likely be in peripheral nerve stimulation applications, rather than brain or spinal cord. He believes there is good potential for use in functional electrical stimulation because of the ability to stimulate agonist muscles while inhibiting antagonist muscles at the same time.
In a session on progress in neural interfaces, Victor Pikov of Huntington Medical Research Institutes surveyed the different electrode technologies used in retinal implants today. He also discussed new technologies such as ion-selective electrodes, deformable neural interfaces, and probes that change stiffness from rigid during implantation to flexible after implantation.
Jeff Gagnon from QiG Group spoke of some innovative electrode technologies, such as thin-film technology, multi-point probes and arrays, and optoprobes for optogenetic applications. He also mentioned future interfaces using polymer leads, new electrode coatings, stretchable electrodes, and leadless systems.
Florian Solzbacher from the University of Utah mentioned some of the challenges involved with microfabrication of neural interfaces, including achieving high reliability after encapsulation in vivo, reducing power consumption, miniaturization, and reducing cost. He discussed his experiences developing cortical neural interfaces for brain-computer interface applications and peripheral nerve stimulation.
In a session devoted to commercialization issues, Sherrie Perkins, vice president of marketing and new business development at Cyberonics, mentioned some of her observations over the years. She advised entrepreneurs to begin the commercialization process with the endgame in mind and to know their intellectual property position. She said that Cyberonics had grown its epilepsy business steadily, with unit sales of 2,300 devices in the most recent quarter, and that average selling price had increased 5 percent to $19,024. Perkins is one of a small group within the company that is looking at investments outside the epilepsy market. The firm has made investments in ImThera Medical and Cerbomed GmbH recently.
Brian Mech from Second Sight Medical Products gave attendees an update on the company’s Argus II retinal prosthesis. He said the company’s first target indication, retinitis pigmentosa, represents a $6 billion market opportunity by itself in the U.S. and Europe, and that the next indication, macular degeneration, offered a $13 billion opportunity. He mentioned the favorable vote from the ophthalmic devices panel [see article, p4] and said the company hopes to launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2013. Second Sight has obtained reimbursement for the device in Germany and Italy at a level of €73,000. Mech said the next generation of the Argus device would feature 240 channels and that the company is exploring the market for a visual cortical stimulator, which would address all forms of blindness.
The second day of the conference was devoted to noninvasive stimulation and neurosensing systems and consumer applications of neurotechnology. Chip Fisher of Fisher-Wallace Laboratories gave attendees an update on cranial electrical stimulation using the company’s under-$1000 transcranial AC stimulation system. The company is pursuing research in several application areas, including PTSD, major depressive disorder, insomnia, migraine, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease, pediatric epilepsy, and addiction. A typical treatment regimen is 20 minutes for 30 to 45 days. The mechanism of action is based on an increase in serotonin, beta-endorphins, and GABA and a decrease in cortisol and overall neuronal activity.
A session devoted to advances in neuromarker technology featured presentations from Chad Bouton at Battelle and George Carpenter from CNS Response. Bouton discussed neurosensing applications in seizure monitoring and in closed-loop neurosensing/neurostimulation links. Carpenter described his firm’s PEER (psychiatric EEG evaluation registry) technology, which merges EEG analysis with a sophisticated outcome registry to predict medication response. He said the company is using military applications as a “carrier wave.” CNS Response is gearing up for a 2000-subject clinical trial conducted with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Several presenters at the conference discussed applications in gaming and sports training. Adam Gazzaley from UC San Francisco described some of his research in neurosensing and neuroimaging to gauge human performance. He reported that one neural indicator, midline frontal theta, is more robust in youthful participants than older individuals when engaged in a task. Gazzaley has helped launch a commercial venture, Akili Interactive Labs, to pursue therapeutic video games. Amy Kruse from Initific Inc. described her experience at DARPA where soldiers performed tasks in the field wearing EEG headsets. Her team has built immersive environments and an “operational neuroscience laboratory” to accelerate the trajectory of improvement in tasks like markmanship.
Entrepreneur presenters at the conference included Laura Tyler Perryman from Stimwave Technologies, Jon Snyder from Neuros Medical, J.P. Errico from ElectroCore Medical, Lee Gerdes from Brain State Technologies, and Leon Ekchian from NeuroSigma.