Making money saving lives: Grand Valley firm sets sights on both goals in bringing unique medical device to market
Matt Mayer foresees huge markets potentially worth billions of dollars for a unique medical device he’s helped develop. But he’s equally excited about another opportunity: reducing the risk of blood clots that kill hundreds of thousands of people in the United States each year.
“When you can save lives, that’s pretty cool,” says Mayer, president of Mayer Medical Technologies, a Grand Junction firm he founded with his father, David Mayer, an orthopaedic surgeon.
The company is moving closer to bringing to market the Frogg system, a compression device that fits inside a sandal and simulates the natural blood flow produced by walking, in turn treating patients at risk for developing blood clots in their legs.
Even as Matt Mayer looks for investors to help fund continued development and testing of the system, an award from a federal program worth nearly $250,000 will help. The firm received the award under a provision of federal health care reform legislation that offers refundable tax credits to small companies that perform qualifying medical research and development.
The Frogg system was developed as part of David Mayer’s efforts over his more than 30-year career to find a better way to treat patients at risk of developing blood clots in their legs because of limited mobility, including those recovering from orthopaedic surgery. Matt Mayer brings to the venture experience in running a software company as well as his participation in product development enterprises involving everything from startup firms to Fortune 100 companies.
Matt Mayer says a number of treatment options long have been used to prevent blood clots, including compression stockings; pneumatic devices that compress the foot, calf and thigh; and blood-thinning drugs. Those options come with disadvantages, though, he adds. Pneumatic compression devices are noisy, uncomfortable and must be removed when a patient gets out of bed. Consequently, patients tend to use such devices far less than they should. Medications can cause side effects, including an increased risk of bleeding.
The Frogg system provides the compression that helps reduce the risk of clots, but without any of the associated complications, Mayer says.
The key component of the system is a small device that raises and lowers a pad that applies pressure to the arch of the foot, a key area for promoting blood flow through the veins in the leg.
The compression device automatically adjusts to the height of a patient’s arch and applies pressure every 30 seconds. The device slips inside inexpensive sandals with adjustable straps and automatically turns off when the patient walks. The device also sends a signal to a separate electronic monitoring device that tracks its use. The device is powered by a battery that lasts more than three days between charges.
Mayer says the Frogg system is comfortable, portable and doesn’t have to be removed when the patient walks. Consequently, patients are more likely to use it for longer periods. They can wear the system in surgery, in the hospital during recovery and at home afterwards. Moreover, there are no side effects associated with the system.
Mayer says clinical tests demonstrate the Frogg system moves blood in deep veins in the leg, which in turn reduces the risk of blood clots, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Mayer says a number of factors increase risk of DVT, among them immobility following injury or surgery, but also obesity, smoking, cancer and some genetic conditions. Pregnant women also face increased risk of swelling and blood clots in their legs.
By one estimate, 45 million people in the U.S. face three or more risk factors for DVT. Clots actually occur in about 2 million people each year and 600,000 patients are hospitalized for DVT or DVT in combination with other conditions. “DVTs are a big, big issue,” Mayer says.
Blood clots in the deep veins in the leg that break lose and travel through the bloodstream can lodge in an artery in the lungs, causing a potentially life-threatening condition called a pulmonary embolism. By one estimate, pulmonary embolisms kill 200,000 to 300,000 people a year in the United States. That’s more than breast cancer, AIDS and highway fatalities combined, Mayer says.
The market for various products that prevent DVT and pulmonary embolism in hospitals and at home totals $2.8 billion a year, Mayer says. Blood-thinning medications account for about $2 billion, a figure that’s expected to grow to $7.4 billion over the next five years.
Mayer says he hopes his company can partner with a medical equipment provider to further develop the Frogg system; conduct clinical trials, gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and move toward full production, marketing and sales. By one company timeline, production and sales for the acute care market could begin in 2012.
At the same time, though, there are other potential markets for the Frogg system, including those for home therapy and athletics.
In addition to reducing the risk for blood clots, the system promotes circulation that in turn can help athletes recover more quickly from competition and workouts, Mayer says. That offers benefits for everyone from elite professional athletes to people who enjoy recreational sports. And no footwear product is currently available to speed recovery after exercise.
The market for athletic shoes in the United States alone tops $17 billion, so Mayer foresees another large market for the Frogg system. “Let’s just say it’s a big number.”
Mayer says he’s excited about the progress of the Frogg system and his company as well the potential for the product to fare well in profitable markets.
But he’s also anxious to get the Frogg system on the market to help prevent blood clots and save lives. And that makes for a good business to operate. “It just makes you happy to come to work everyday.”