There can be, in medtech, a distinct advantage to coming second. A company developing a trailblazer device must convince investors that it is worth building, the regulators that it is safe and helpful, and payers that it is worth the extra cost.
Waiting until another group has done all this and then stepping in with an improved version can thus be quicker, easier and cheaper. This is what the private UK group Quanta is aiming for with SC+, a portable dialysis system that it says is a more advanced version of a rival product that has been on the market for 10 years. “We’re not inventing mobile phones,” the company’s CEO, John Milad, tells EP Vantage, “we’re inventing the smartphone.”
This haemodialysis equivalent of the smartphone will be available in Europe in 2016, having been CE marked last month. This is a partial vindication for Quanta’s venture backers, who late last year pumped £27m ($44m) into the company, by no means a poor haul for a European company.
In January, concurrent with its CE marking, Quanta managed a second close of its funding round, bringing the total to £29m.
|Biggest European medtech financing rounds of 2014|
|Company||Country||Investment ($m)||Round||Date||Global rank|
|GC Aesthetics||Ireland||60.0||Series A||February||=5|
|Oxford Nanopore Technologies||UK||59.0||Series G||August||=7|
|Data sourced to EvaluateMedtech|
Quanta’s SC+ system is designed for use both in clinics and at home. Currently, the only portable dialysis technology that can be used at home and is already marketed is the System One, made by Massachusetts company NxStage.
Quanta is conducting an initial release of the SC+ system into clinics, with the intention of moving into home use after that.
Despite NxStage’s established market position – System One did $177m of business in 2013, including both clinic and home use, and this is forecast to rise to $373m in 2020, EvaluateMedTech’s consensus data shows – Mr Milad believes that Quanta can take the leader on. In fact, he says, Quanta can capitalise on the NxStage’s efforts to open the market for portable devices up, with a device that appeals to home users but can deliver an effect closer to what is achieved in hospitals.
In haemodialysis, effectiveness depends on, among other things, the flow rate of the dialysate – the electrolyte solution used to remove impurities from the blood via osmotic pressure.
“Traditionally in centres,” Mr Milad says, “they’ll run [dialysate] at up to 500ml/min to provide therapy.” NxStage say that their machine has dialysate flow rates of up to 300ml/min. Quanta says the SC+ has flow rates that are faster than this, allowing less frequent haemodialysis.
Gambro’s hospital dialysis machines, for example, are capable of dialysate flow rates of up to 800ml/min.
Quanta is initially focusing on Europe, and has no immediate plans to take SC+ to the US. Pricing will be a crucial point when it comes to adoption in European markets ruled largely by national healthcare providers.
“I think NxStage have not been successful in the UK,” Mr Milad says. “Because it is largely an argument of convenience, not clinical superiority, it’s difficult for the NHS to justify paying for it.”
In a response, NxStage told EP Vantage that it disputed this suggestion, saying that it has grown very quickly in the UK and has some very large programmes.
Whether Quanta will be able to convince health services in the UK and beyond will become clear in the coming years. The VCs it tapped for cash last year, at least, must be persuaded that it can.
The success of Quanta’s fundraising may be less to do with the excellence of the company or its technology, however, than the presence of Mr Milad himself. He is a former member of the investment team at medtech fund NBGI Ventures, which participated in both of Quanta’s rounds.
The opening of the IPO market in both the US and Europe is also a factor.
“In the last year or two the life sciences sector has been helped by a resurgence in the IPO market, which means that there’s another source of capital,” Mr Milad says. “Venture investors can see a credible path to a float and getting liquidity in companies outside of a trade sale.”
Nonetheless Mr Milad is right when he says that “raising almost £30m is no mean feat, especially for medtech in Europe”. He says that in the last couple of years venture investment in medtech has stabilised after dropping alarmingly in the wake of the 2008 crisis, and has adjusted to a new normal.
Regarding Quanta specifically, it helps that the dialysis market is sizeable, at around $75bn a year including service provision.
“Even if we’re modestly successful we’ll create a really substantial business,” Mr Milad says.
This story was updated on February 5 to incorporate statements from NxStage Medical and correct details of Quanta’s marketing strategy