Virtual Pitch Competition Recognizes Pediatric Device Innovators

The UCSF-Stanford Pediatric Device Consortium held its annual pitch competition via videoconference on March 30, awarding a total of $225,000 in seed funding to several companies working to develop health technology and medical devices for children.

“Our mission is to enable and accelerate health technology for children,” said James Wall, MD, co-principal investigator of the consortium, in his opening remarks at the start of the competition. Wall is a pediatric surgeon at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health.

Medical device development for children lags far behind that for adults, with many more devices for adults receiving approval from the Food and Drug Administration each year. As a result, medical devices sized for children’s smaller bodies or tailored to address conditions that occur in early life are often lacking.

The competition was originally scheduled to take place on campus at the Stanford University School of Medicine as part of the annual Pediatric Innovation Showcase. Although the other portions of the event were canceled due to concerns about COVID-19, the pitch competition went forward: Finalists from 10 companies made Shark Tank–style presentations about their efforts to develop new products for unmet pediatric medical needs. The finalists were selected from 30 teams that entered the competition.

“Despite the trying times, we still feel it’s incredibly important to serve the underserved needs of pediatric health care through technology development,” Wall said. The UCSF-Stanford Pediatric Device Consortium was established in 2018 with a five-year, $6.7 million grant from the FDA to Wall and his colleagues Michael Harrison, MD, Shuvo Roy, PhD, and Hanmin Lee, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco.

During the videoconference, each team of finalists had five minutes to give a slide presentation, followed by three minutes for questions from the judges. Judges were Bay Area leaders from academia and the biotech, venture capital and health care industries.

The competition’s top prize, the Platinum Award of $50,000, went to Eclipse Regenesis, Inc., for its surgical device for patients with short bowel syndrome. This condition occurs when large portions of the bowel must be surgically removed, such as when an infant suffers complications of premature birth. Short bowel syndrome greatly impairs a patient’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Existing treatments are very expensive, are not curative and have severe side effects. Thirty percent of infants with short bowel syndrome die before age 3.

The Eclipse XL1 device was developed by a team that included James Dunn, MD, surgeon in chief at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, and Tom Krummel, MD, professor emeritus of pediatric surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The device consists of a spring that is surgically placed inside the small intestine. Over 21 days, the spring slowly expands, exerting gentle tension that stimulates growth of about 4 centimeters of new intestinal tissue. The device has succeeded in animal tests, in which the researchers have shown that it is possible to use several of the devices in series. The company plans to use the award to help fund their first-in-human trial.

The Eclipse XL1 device, developed by Eclipse Regenesis, Inc., consists of a spring placed in the small intestine that expands gradually over 21 days, exerting gentle tension that stimulates growth of new intestinal tissue.

Gold Awards of $30,000 were given to three companies for their research on the following devices, which are in various stages of development:

  • Myka Bio received a Gold Award for a magnetic surgical device intended to help repair esophageal atresia, a congenital condition in which the esophagus does not develop correctly. Current surgical repairs have high rates of complications, which the new device aims to avoid.

  • RISE received a Gold Award for a neuromuscular electrical stimulator that sends electrical signals to a child’s muscles to help the child learn to walk smoothly. The device is intended for children with conditions that impair gait, such as cerebral palsy. By receiving the right electrical signals to the muscles, the child’s body and brain can gradually learn the feel of a smoother gait.

  • A team led by Vamsi Aribindi, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, received the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals Gold Award for an electrified catheter intended to prevent central line–associated bloodstream infections. Bacteria are unable to adhere to metals that have an electrical current running through them, so the researchers are designing a catheter that has all exposed surfaces encased in metal, with the aim of reducing infection risk.

Smaller awards of $2,500 to $20,000 were given to the remaining seven teams of finalists. The Pediatric Device Consortium is also providing support to new projects that address COVID-19, Wall said, noting that the consortium has helped fund the Stanford Ventilator Project.

The next Pediatric Innovation Showcase will be held in March 2021 at the University of California, San Francisco.


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