One of my favorite things to do is see the companies in which Psilos invests “in action” and actually interacting with their customers. This is particularly engaging when it comes to medical devices, since the patient and provider experience are so tangible and visible. Last week I had the chance to attend the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Annual Meeting (glad I did not attend on Menopause Day–yikes!). As I walked to my destination, I passed so many transvaginal ultrasound set-ups that I thought for a minute I was at the Republican Convention. But ASRM it was and I was there to visit with Psilos portfolio company OmniGuide, a medical device company based in Cambridge, MA, that was exhibiting its new gynecological laparoscopic and robotic products.
OmniGuide has for several years sold a set of unique CO2 laser surgical tools that have been used in more than 50,000 surgeries in the fields of otolaryngology, neurology and head and neck surgery. The company has recently added the gynecological field to its focus, as it’s products are uniquely able to remove tissue safely while surgeons work near fine structures within the body that are easily harmed by other methods. Endometriosis and fibroid surgeries are particularly well-suited for the application of CO2 laser energy, the safest form of surgical energy, because surgeons can remove diseased or damaged tissues without cutting or cooking the ovaries, fallopian tubes, ureter, bowel, bladder or vital arteries that can be readily damaged by traditional surgical methods. The collateral thermal damage that other commonly-used energy-based surgical tools can cause to nearby tissues can lead also to longer and more painful recoveries for patients already suffering from difficult conditions, as well as higher costs as physicians are forced to treat the unforeseen consequences of side-effects and excess pain. Psilos invested in OmniGuide because it epitomizes our goal to invest in products and services that improve quality, reduce cost and align the clinical and financial incentives of patients, payers and providers.
In any event, The ASRM was exciting to me for several reasons. The best part was that I got to change out of my civilian clothes, put on scrubs (note: apparently all surgeons are tall because I had to roll the scrub pant cuffs up 6 inches), and watch first hand as a leading physician in the field of women’s health put her hands on the newest of the OmniGuide laparoscopic tools for the first time. It was great to see her pick up the device and so intuitively begin using it, but especially to hear her delight in how the product had the potential to enhance her already very skilled hands. It is hard to please the experts and it was great to see a surgeon of such stature experience what I get to hear the company talk about in the abstract, but haven’t seen live before.
Although not on site, I and about 5000 surgeons and others had the opportunity to view a live case transmitted to the conference by Dr. Antonio Rosario Gargiulo of the Center for Infertility and Reproductive Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Center for Infertility and Reproductive Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Gargiulo performed a complex fibroid tumor removal (aka myomectomy) using a combination of Intuitive Surgical’s robot and OmniGuide’s just released Robotic Surgery Fiber System. The surgery was very successful in removing a large fibroid from the uterine wall and two small growths near the fallopian tubes with the OmniGuide fiber, the channel by which the CO2 laser energy travels. The good news, aside from the good outcome for the patient, was to see Dr. Gargiulo’s own positive response to using the device. I will let him speak for himself here:
“Patients suffering from uterine fibroids in our practice present with abnormal uterine bleeding, pelvic pain, infertility or recurrent pregnancy loss. By means of conservative surgery (removal of the tumors and reconstruction of the uterus) patients can look forward to a resolution of their symptoms and/or to successfully conceive and have a normal pregnancy. I believe that sharing the specific details of our novel surgical approach with the members of the ASRM will lead to more options and better outcomes for these patients across the country.”
“The flexible CO2 laser combined with the three-dimensional view and the intuitive instrumentmanipulation allowed by the surgical robot provides the surgeon with a true minimally-invasive microsurgical platform for treating patients with uterine fibroids (as well as other reproductive conditions). As an alternative to other devices that transmit energy beyond your incision, this flexible CO2 laser technology provides a level of precision that will change the way we treat our patients in reproductive medicine. I am pleased to offer it to my patients and share my experience with the ASRM.”
In the 14 years I have been in the med tech investment field I have seen a parade of new products attempt to address the challenge of fibroid removal; most of them have had limited utility because their use is risky near the fine structures that surround the uterus. Since CO2 energy, encapsulated in OmniGuide’s delicate delivery tools, causes virtually no thermal damage or tissue scatter, it’s promise for fibroid removal, endometrial tissue removal and other gynecological procedures has potentially profound implications, as noted by Dr. Gargiulo. It is in these moments, where you see the investments you make truly pay off for patients, physicians and the healthcare system overall, that my job feels incredibly rewarding. Plus it was highly entertaining to see physicians in the OmniGuide. ASRM trade show booth testing out the laser by carving pumpkins with it. For more information about OmniGuide, you can go to their website at www.Omni-Guide.com.
I would be remiss if I didn’t add that another reason I enjoyed the ASRM Meeting: there was a pretty interesting (and at times hilarious) diversity of businesses represented on the convention floor. ASRM has an unusual mix of healthcare services, devices, drug and IT companies, representing nearly the full spectrum of ways to engage with the healthcare system. That in itself is atypical for this type of clinical conference, which is usually all drugs and devices and serious physician beard-stroking. The drug and device companies were there of course, especially the imaging companies, but there were also healthcare IT companies focused on patient engagement (e.g. social networks for those facing fertility challenges) and even a company that sells patients insurance policies in the event their in vitro fertilization doesn’t go as hoped. Since the conference focuses on reproductive medicine, there were lots of fertility drugs, egg and sperm collection and management systems and an unusually large number of sperm cartoon graphics. One just does not see that at, say, the cardiovascular-focused TransCatheter Technologies Conference (TCT), also held the week of ASRM.
Even better, I just don’t think you would ever see a guy riding a giant spermcycle down the aisle of TCT or any other medical conference, right along side the Merck and Pfizer booths, but they had one here, courtesy of European Sperm Bank USA. The guy who rides it around also pilots it through the streets of Portland making, um, deliveries, kind of like a modern day stork with a bicycle-powered refrigeration system. The good news for that business is they could always re-purpose the bike for ice cream delivery, albeit probably not near schools.
However, this wasn’t the most unusual sight at ASRM. I love to attend these conferences and identify what I believe to be the true standout for either uniqueness, ingenuity, or weirdness and I was directed to the hands-down ASRM winner by one of my OmniGuide colleagues: a company called Reproductive Output (gotta love the double entendre of the name). Their business is to help fertility clinics and related busineses manage their “adult material” on an outsourced basis. In laymen’s terms they are a porn procurement and management system. They help sperm banks and fertility clinics alleviate the discomfort, distribution and disinfecting challenges of their adult magazine and DVD libraries so nurses and secretaries don’t have to. They order your magazines and videos, check them for content and rate them for “edginess” and ensure the material is continually refreshed, in every sense of the word. My favorite passage from their brochure is in their their FAQ. In response to “common misconceptions about adult material provisioning”, the question arises about what do do if the patients take the materials home with them. Answer: “You know best how much a single round of IVF costs and what your typical male patient is paying to be there. Let him have the magazines–if he’s taking it he probably needs it.”
Wow. Just proves that anything can be a business if you have the entrepreneurial spirit to see the vision. Probably not a fit for Psilos’ investment portfolio, but I can think of a lot of teenage boys (and VCs) I know who would love to curate content at this place.