Ben Franklin


ALung Technologies: Giving Patients Freedom from Mechanical Ventilation

Imagine if hospital patients who require constant breathing support could sit upright in bed, eat and talk with friends and family members-all while receiving ventilation. This will soon be possible thanks to two new technologies that ALung Technologies, Inc., currently has in development.

ALung Technologies

Alung’s Hemolung System (shown here) adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide outside the body, allowing patients to sit upright in bed, eat and talk with friends and family members. In typical patient ventilation systems, patients breathe oxygen through bulky and restrictive tubes and masks.

“Our efforts will replace mechanical ventilation in patients who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and acute respiratory distress syndrome,” says Nick Kuhn, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh company.

One of these new technologies is the Hemolung System, which is a respiratory support system comparable to a kidney dialysis machine, where blood is treated outside the body. With the Hemolung, a small tube is inserted into the jugular or the femoral vein. Blood is withdrawn and circulated externally through a proprietary cartridge, which adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. The newly oxygenated blood is then returned to the body.

More Effective and More Economical

Because it both delivers oxygen and removes carbon dioxide, the Hemolung is expected to deliver a more effective and economical ventilation solution than the standard mechanical ventilation systems currently in place. The device can support patients with breathing problems for seven days, giving their lungs a bridge to recovery.

“We expect sales to begin in Europe in early 2008, with a U.S. launch in 2009,” says Kuhn. ALung estimates that close to 300,000 patients each year will be candidates for Hemolung.

ALung’s other technology-the Hattler Catheter-is an integrated “intravascular gas exchange device” that is inserted directly into the vena cava in the heart. After insertion, the catheter delivers oxygen to the blood and removes the carbon dioxide.

Providing Freedom, Eliminating Complications

Although Kuhn says ALung may develop other critical care technologies in the future, the company is currently focusing its efforts on the Hemolung System and the Hattler Catheter, which Kuhn says will benefit both patients and hospitals.

“First, they’ll eliminate ventilator-associated pneumonia and ventilator-induced lung damage,” he points out. “Second, they’ll allow patients to sit, eat and talk rather than being sedated and intubated.”

Finally, he notes that both technologies will eliminate the typical “weaning process.” Because most patients on ventilators experience weakness in the respiratory muscles, they often become dependent on the ventilator. When it’s time to come off, patients must slowly adjust to breathing on their own.

“Eliminating the weaning process will reduce the average hospital stay of ventilated patients by 50 percent and create a significant savings for the hospitals,” Kuhn says.

Alone in the Marketplace

ALung, now 10 employees strong, is currently the only company developing a respiratory support system targeted at replacing the need for mechanical ventilation in these patient populations, Kuhn says. Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) recognized the potential of ALung’s innovative technologies and invested $1.1 million in the company to help get it off the ground.

“Ben Franklin was helpful early on in helping us set milestones and providing introductions to angel investors,” Kuhn says. “In addition, they shared their specific expertise in critical-care products and clinical trials, which has been particularly helpful.”

BFTP continues its involvement with ALung Technologies as a board observer. “We continue to update Ben Franklin on our progress, and we rely on their input,” Kuhn says. “We also participate in a monthly meeting of other company CEOs that they sponsor. We appreciate the opportunity to share challenges and solutions.”

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This article was featured in
Keynotes February, 2007
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