EMV Technologies: Improving the Success of Kidney Dialysis
Time is precious for anyone who suffers from a serious illness-and few people understand this better than kidney dialysis patients. There are more than 360,000 people in the U.S. whose kidney damage is so severe that they have to endure four hours of dialysis a day, four days a week. Yet dialysis patients survive an average of just 4.5 years-a grim statistic that William Van Geertruyden is working very hard to improve.
“Our company is dedicated to improving the life span and the quality of life for these patients,” says Van Geertruyden, general manager of EMV Technologies, an advanced materials company located in the Ben Franklin Business Incubator in Bethlehem. The company is developing an improved blood filter that can shorten dialysis times and, more important, extend the life expectancy of kidney patients.
“Doctors are already saying if we can reduce the mortality rate and lower the time of the treatment, everyone will buy it,” says Van Geertruyden.
Dialysis works by drawing a patient’s blood into a pumping machine, where it passes through a blood-cleaning filter and is flowed back into the body. The heart of the dialysis machine is the filter-a technology that hasn’t changed much in 30 years. The holes in current polymer-based filters are random in size and shape, allowing many toxins to pass through untouched.
EMV’s ceramic-based process allows for the creation of filters with smaller and more uniform hole size. “Our filter can target toxins in the blood much more precisely than what’s currently available,” Van Geertruyden says. “Simply put, our filters take out more of the bad stuff and leave in more of the good stuff.”
The Power of Strategic Partners
Van Geertruyden, who is a Lehigh University Ph.D. and adjunct professor, co-founded EMV in 2003 as a startup focused on providing material science consulting services. Projects with such well-known businesses as Boston Scientific and Northrop Grumman help pay the bills, enabling EMV to develop new technologies like the dialysis filter.
As head of a small startup company, Van Geertruyden knows he can’t go it alone. That’s why the company has partnered with both Lehigh University and Widener University to develop the new filter. Together, they received a $195,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for prototype development.
“Lehigh has been a very close partner,” Van Geertruyden says. “We work with professors and graduate students, and take advantage of their world-class electron microscopes-equipment we could never afford on our own.” Two of their graduate students were funded in part by the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ).
“When we were first starting out, we received a $15,000 KIZ grant that started the research,” Van Geertruyden recalls. “While we were waiting for our NIH funding, this support was critical.”
Benefits Far Beyond the Funding
Van Geertruyden credits the company’s partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) as being key to their early success. The incubator space, with its proximity to Lehigh, provides a great low-cost, creative environment and a steady stream of business-development advice. In addition, last September BFTP provided funding that enabled EMV to hire a consultant to further develop their business plan.
“I’m a materials scientist, not a business guy,” Van Geertruyden says. “It’s been tremendously helpful to have BFTP provide a consultant to look at the market and our intellectual property and advise us on which direction to take with our growth strategy.”
A Ready Market for the Technology
EMV’s filter technology promises to bring reduced costs to an already overburdened health care system. Van Geertruyden estimates the dialysis filter market at about $8 billion per year. Medicare alone spends more than $20 billion a year on dialysis, making it the program’s single largest expenditure.
With EMV technology, the time it takes for the blood to pass through the filter can be reduced by as much as one hour-and 25 percent less time spent in dialysis will result in lower costs across the board. In addition, current filters start to break down after only 5 to 10 uses. EMV filters will be reusable up to 50 times, greatly reducing the cost of materials for treatment.
Moving Toward the Trials Phase
The recent NIH grant will allow EMV to complete prototype development and move toward FDA approval. Their primary customers will be dialysis centers-a market dominated by a small handful of fully integrated companies that make all the equipment and run the centers. While trials are not expected to begin until later this year, momentum is already building on EMV’s side.
“We’ve had conversations with two of the 800-pound gorillas in this market space, and they said, ‘Give us the prototype, show us the numbers and we’ll listen,’” says Van Geertruyden. While he and his team pursue prototype development, the BFTP-funded consultant is investigating the many possible directions the company could take.
Keynotes February, 2007
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