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TherVoyant seeking FDA regulatory clearance for real-time MRI guidance

TherVoyant, a health tech company providing real-time MRI guidance for surgical procedures, is seeking $1.8 million to support efforts to obtain FDA regulatory clearance.

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, uses a magnetic field and radio waves to make internal body images. For patients to get an MRI scan, they enter a large tube-shaped machine in which almost any part of the body can be scanned.

TherVoyant, which came out of UW-Madison, wants to bring procedures from the operating room into the MR suite, so as to simplify workflow for surgeons who would benefit from visualizing the delivery of therapy in the patient’s body during surgery.

Its technology platform, GuideRT, streamlines the operation of the MRI scanner, using software to guide the placement of medical devices. It controls all the MRI scanner’s resources, much like an app on a smartphone can access the device’s camera, touchscreen and other components.

Walter Block, company founder and UW-Madison professor of biomedical engineering, says company technicians are concentrating first on brain surgeries.

“There are harder problems we could address in parts of the body where access in an MR scanner is more restricted, but business-wise the brain provides areas for impact while minimizing some technical challenges,” Block said.

TherVoyant’s goal with MRIs boils down to making this type of scanning as easy to implement as any other tool in the surgeon’s arsenal.

As of now, health care providers will usually do an MRI scan long before the procedure because of workflow concerns, but that’s not the ideal situation.

“Real-time images during surgery are useful, compared to images taken weeks ago,” Block said.

The company’s system works on top of a standard diagnostic scanner, and connects with software to track interventional devices like biopsy needles.

GuideRT’s software helps with the placement of FDA-approved brain ports, which act as channels for biopsy needles and other therapy delivery tools. Other software products will map the delivery of drug therapies, and predict where pharmaceuticals such as cancer treatments will travel once they are infused into the brain.

There were two main circumstances that led to the creation of TherVoyant, Block says.

First, he and other founders partnered with Heart Vista, another health care tech company, which created a portal that now runs the scanner from a development platform.

“That was one big thing,” Block said. “It created a business opportunity to build customized apps for surgical applications.”

Second, the TherVoyant team realized most companies were focused on guiding devices to a specific place.

“We saw the opportunity to visualize drug therapies,” Block said. “We want to monitor those, and predict where therapies will go.”

The company’s system can be used for brain biopsies, gene delivery and even stem cell therapy. It is currently working with Marvel Medtech, another company focusing on MRIs, on robotics-assisted breast biopsies.

Block says the technology has also been used to guide research treatments in animal models led by Dr. Ned Kalin in the UW-Madison Department of Psychiatry. These treatments effectively “alter the chemistry of the brain locally.”

The idea for the company started around 2011, and it received an SBIR grant in 2014, but Block says it just now is “gaining steam.” It has four full-time employees and three part-time.

The company also has two products in the pipeline, which would be built upon the GuideRT platform. ObserveRT would provide monitoring of therapy progress for other scanner types including CT and PET, and PredictRT would improve cancer-killing drug delivery by predicting the specifics of that delivery by combining real-time measures and prior surgical data.

--By Alex Moe


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