CMI Team Success Story:
By Akhil Aniff, CMI Fellow
Aruga Technologies is a new Pitt spin-off company that is
hoping to revolutionize the field of vascular grafts. Their unique graft technology,
named TopoGraft, aims to reduce the occurrence of clot formation in blood
vessels with its specially designed irregular internal shape. Not only can this
technology be used for vascular grafts, but the team hopes that it may be able
to reduce clot formation in mechanical circulatory support devices as well.
We were able to meet with Dr. Robert Kormos, a
cardiothoracic surgeon at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital and one of the lead
investigators on the Aruga Technologies team.
Can you give us a brief explanation of the product?
TopoGraft is an artificial arterial vessel that can be used
as a vessel graft in the body. All natural vessels in our body have these
natural folds in their inner surface that can change shape as the vessel
expands and contracts. This helps keep the surface “clean” and prevent thrombus
formation. TopoGraft works the same way and we’ve shown that our product helps
deter clots from forming within the vessel.
This kind of product can also be used in several other
applications, like heart pumps and VADs. Essentially our product is very
similar to the natural shape of endothelium in the body and this makes it
appear to be less of a foreign body in the body.
Who came up with the original idea for the graft design.
That would be Dr. Luka Pocivavsek. Luka first interviewed
here to be a resident for the hospital. He always had a tendency to be a great
scientist as well as being a physician. We had talked about the advantages of
working at UPMC given the very strong ties that the hospital has with Pitt
engineering, so it was a natural place for him to come here as begin to take the
lead on projects like this. After he had this idea, we connected with Dr.
Velankar and Dr. Tzeng to form the team.
How much funding has the team raised for this project?
We’ve received two grants from CMI, which really helped the
team conduct the initial work and research to develop a prototype. We also
received funding from other sources, like NSF’s Icorp, the Innovation Institute,
and the Chancellor’s Innovation Scholarship. The team has a lot of great
experience and I believe that they’re going to accomplish a lot. The two rounds
helped us develop our initial product and conduct some baseline testing. In
total, the team raised about $300K to get to where we are now.
What’s the plan for getting this product into the market?
They will start with a graft that addresses peripheral
vascular disease. Once they can establish a footing in that market, they’ll
move on to applying this product to coronary bypass grafts and then move onto
larger grafts. Finally, the goal is to also apply this to mechanical
circulatory support devices such as Left Ventricular Assist Devices. Stroke is
a very large problem with mechanical devices, so this technology might be able
to help reduce the occurrence of those things.
The team is having a meeting with the FDA to determine what
kind of clinical study is appropriate for this product. Once that is complete,
they will be able to apply for SBIR grants. Given the incidence of arterial
disease, there is a massive multi-billion dollar market for this kind of
product. Most other plastic or biodegradable grafts are either too expensive or
too far away from being available in the market. Our device would sell for
about $900 whereas our competitors are closer to $10,000. There are still
several years ahead for development, but I believe we’re on a good track to
have a successful product in the market.