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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

HistoSonics gains new leaders, turns focus to oncology


HistoSonics Inc., an Ann Arbor-based maker of ultrasonic medical devices aimed at shrinking or destroying cancer tumors, has a new CEO, a new chief medical officer and a new $8.2 million round of venture-capital funding to pay for upcoming human trials.

Mike Blue, a veteran executive at oncology-device companies, has been recruited to the University of Michigan spinoff from Minneapolis, where he had been vice president of sales for NeuWave Medical Inc., a company that made minimally invasive devices that used microwaves to shrink soft-tissue lesions. It was sold last year to a unit of Johnson & Johnson.

Previously, Blue had been vice president of sales in the interventional lung solutions division of Covidien and was a regional sales manager for the interventional oncology business at Boston Scientific.

“I’ve spent 17 years in interventional oncology, and HistoSonics affords me the chance to continue my career in oncology,” said Blue, who replaced Christine Gibbons as president and CEO. She remains with the company as COO.

Blue said the $8.2 million in funding was the first close on HistoSonics’ Series B round, with a second and final close of $5 million scheduled for early in the second quarter.

“We’ve got a real opportunity to develop a new platform for cancer care,” he said.

Joining him at HistoSonics is Fred Lee, M.D., who had been a co-founder and chief medical officer at NeuWave, a portfolio company of Madison, Wis.-based Venture Investors LLC, which invested $1.55 million of the $8.2 million for HistoSonics and previously led the $14.2 million Series A round the company raised after it was spun off from UM in 2009.

Joining Venture Investors in this funding round are the Grand Angels of Grand Rapids; the University of Michigan’s Wolverine Venture Fund; The MINTS (Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups) program at UM; Hatteras Venture Partners of Durham, N.C.; Fletcher Spaght Ventures of Boston; TGap Ventures of Kalamazoo; and Early Stage Partners of Cleveland.

Originally, HistoSonics, which employs 12, planned to focus on noninvasively shrinking swollen prostates as well as targeting cancerous tumors but will focus, now, on oncology.

“Based on a growing body of preclinical evidence and changing market dynamics, the decision was made to focus all efforts on cancer and, in the short term, specifically liver cancer,” said Blue.

Measured by five-year survival rates, liver cancer is the second-deadliest cancer and not very responsive to chemotherapy and radiation. Its five-year survival rate is 17 percent, compared with 7 percent for pancreatic cancer, the deadliest kind, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Pancreatic cancer will be our second target after liver cancer,” Blue said.

“I’m extremely enthusiastic we were able to recruit Mike Blue as our CEO and Dr. Fred Lee as our senior medical adviser,” said Jim Adox, who runs the Ann Arbor office of Venture Investors. “I know Mike and Fred well and have first-hand confidence in their capabilities.”

Lee will remain in Wisconsin, where he runs an animal lab at the University of Wisconsin, where he is doing pre-clinical work for HistoSonics on 30 pigs. He also has a medical practice treating cancer patients.

Lee will help oversee a 10-patient study that is scheduled to be done in the third quarter this year by a surgeon in Spain named Dr. Joan Vidal-Jove, a surgical oncologist.

Patients will be reviewed two months after their surgery to monitor healing and tumor shrinkage.

“We’ll know a lot more about the regulatory pathway after we finish this confirmation study,” said Blue.