The Sonic Flashlight is a
device that works through a transducer probe that sends ultrasound waves into the body and creates a
three-dimensional view into the body. The result helps doctors and nurses to get the job done right,
getting the needle in one stick. It gives medical professionals a better view during procedures, such
as inserting catheters and IVs.
Sonic Flashlight brings to light entrepreneur's hopes for firm
By Alex Nixon, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Karl Im, a medical device entrepreneur from San Francisco, visited Pittsburgh to license new technology from local universities and take it back to the West Coast. But the 50-year-old recently decided instead to create companies here. There are many promising medical device ideas being developed in laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, but there was no specialized organization to take those concepts and turn them into companies, Im said. "I think that's what is drawing me to this area," he said recently during a meeting at SiGenix Inc., a Monroeville engineering company that has performed the prototype work for Im's first company here, Insituvue Inc. Im said he'll continue to live in the San Francisco area and run Venta Medical Inc., the medical device contract manufacturing company he owns. At the same time, Im and his Pittsburgh-based business partner, Gary Rosensteel, last month formed MedXL8r LLC, a company that Im said he wants "to be known as the medical device accelerator" in Pittsburgh. The accelerator, for which Rosensteel and Im are seeking physical space, will provide staff, offices and funding to the startup companies the pair found, Rosensteel said. "We're looking for technologies that we feel have commercial potential," he said. "Then we'll create a company and license the technology." Rosensteel said he and Im are looking for about 10,000 square feet of space that can house offices for several companies plus meeting rooms, a machine shop and lab space. Insituvue plans to begin selling a new type of ultrasound device later this year. The device, called the Sonic Flashlight, was developed at Pitt and CMU and works like a traditional ultrasound, but with one key difference. Rather than displaying the ultrasound image onto a monitor screen away from the patient, it projects the image onto a small screen just above where the ultrasound sensor is pointed. Im calls it a "heads up display" that gives clinicians "improved accuracy, ease of use, reduction of procedure time and cost savings."
The device was invented by George Stetten, a Pitt professor of bioengineering and a research professor in robotics at CMU. The Sonic Flashlight isn't meant to replace ultrasound devices that are already in hospitals, Im said. The device is targeted to several specific medical procedures in which clinicians need to access veins, such as in peripherally inserted central catheters. Those procedures involve inserting a flexible tube through a vein in the upper arm and pushing it to the heart for drug delivery. Such catheters require ultrasound to see the vein, but not the expensive, high-quality machines common to hospitals and used in neonatal procedures and diagnostics, Im said. And the Sonic Flashlight allows clinicians to keep their eyes on the spot where they will make the insertion, rather than looking away to a screen.
"Right now, it looks pretty well suited for the vascular access market," said Harvey Klein, owner of Klein Biomedical Consultants in New York. Ultrasound machines purchased for vascular access procedures is about a $15 million to $25 million-a-year market, Klein said. "It's not going to be a really huge market," he said. "I think it's pretty clear that they have to move into other markets. But you have to get in somewhere." A typical low-end machine used in those procedures costs about $15,000, so Insituvue probably will come in below that to attract customers, he said. Insituvue plans to offer the Sonic Flashlight to hospitals on a 90-day free trial with an $8,000 deposit, Im said. If a hospital likes the device, it can keep it for $8,000, a discounted price, he said. Insituvue has raised about $1.5 million from investors and is seeking another $1.5 million as it prepares to begin selling the Sonic Flashlight, Rosensteel said. The company expects to request clearance for the product from the Food and Drug Administration in June, a process that typically takes about three months, Im said.