New Sausalito high-tech start-up shrinks technology to fit physicians' needs
By Richard Halstead
Posted: 02/23/2012 06:12:15 PM PST
In the 1966 movie "Fantastic Voyage," a team of scientists and their submarine are shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the blood stream of a diplomat to remove a blood clot.
"It's a lot like that," said Larry Gerrans, chief executive officer of Sanovas Inc., a budding high-tech company based in Sausalito that has created a next generation, fiber-optic catheter that can venture into the tiniest recesses of the body with a miniature camera and tools to remove tumors and deliver medicines.
The company, founded in 2009, recently acquired 4,700 square feet of office space at 30 Liberty Ship Way, where it will begin manufacture of key components of its microsurgical devices. The company, which has 25 patents
Larry Gerrans, CEO and co-founder of the Sausalito (Calif.) based biotech company Sanovas, holds two fiber optic catheters on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. On the right is one fo a size commonly in use for surgical imaging, and the one at left is a Sanovas prototype for the same purpose. (IJ photo/Alan Dep) Alan Dep
pending worldwide, is pre- paring to file for approval
of a new fiber-optic device
from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration. It has 15 employees and anti- cipates hiring 20 to 30 em-
ployees this year.
Gerrans returned this week from a trans-Atlantic trip during which he met with potential investors. He said he spoke with a large insti-tutional bank in London and sovereign wealth funds in Spain and Germany. So far, Sanovas has been self-financed by "friends and fans," he said.
Dr. Rex Yung, who special-izes in treating pulmonary disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and has done consulting work for Sanovas, said, "They're no flash in the pan."
Yung said Sanovas' fiber-optic catheter is small enough for use in the human lung to treat diseases such as lung cancer. Yung noted that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide; it kills nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to the American Lung Association.
Yung said the device also will allow doctors to locate tumors sooner and to distinguish between obstructions of the lung that are dangerous and those that are benign.
Catheters inserted into the lung either for visualization or treatment purposes are know as bronchoscopes and come in two main varieties: rigid and flexible. Rigid bronchoscopes, which were developed first, are metal tubes that measure about 10 millimeters in diameter. Flexible bronchoscopes employ fiber optics and are much thinner, about 6 millimeters.
In the current design of bronchoscopes, most of the space inside the catheter is taken up by the visualization technology, leaving only a narrow channel — more narrow in the flexible scopes — through which to pass instruments or deliver medicines.
"We've got a 1-millimeter, flexible bronchoscope that has as good an image as a 6-millimeter bronchoscope," Gerrans said. "What that allows us to do is create a larger operating channel."
In addition, Sanovas will be producinga "smart" catheter that utilizes pressurized ballons to simulate the touch response of a surgeon's fingers.
"So we can tell the doctor whether or not the tumor has the consistency of a marshmallow or a marble," Gerrans said.
And the entire bronchoscope is designed to be disposable, eliminating the risk of passing along an infection.
"Surgical infections are on the rise," Gerrans said, "and scopes have been one of the bigger issues because they've got these operating channels."
Yung said the fact that Sanovas' bronchoscope will be cheap and disposable could make it an attractive alternative in poor countries with high rates of infectious disease.
Gerrans, 41, said he chose to locate Sanovas in Sausalito because of the Bay Area's rich talent base and because he grew up in Novato and was eager to return to Marin County with his family.