Serafina: Hi, I’m Serafina and this is The HealthMakers Show, coming to you today from TMC Innovation Institute, and my guest is Dr. Jacob Kriegel, Co-founder and CEO of Alleviant Medical. Jacob, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Jacob: Of course. Thanks for having me.
Serafina: Tell me about Alleviant Medical.
Jacob: Alleviant Medical is a new medical device startup here in the Houston area, and we’re focusing on developing a totally new medical device to treat heart failure.
Serafina: Heart failure is quite a large problem in the health care system. Can you tell me more about it?
Jacob: Heart failure, like you said, massive, massive problem economically, clinically, and really one in which we don’t have great solutions for right now. It’s one of the things that really prompted us as a team early on to try to target this issue. Like you said, it’s costing the system a ton of money to treat. This is a patient population that spends their life in and out of the hospital with very costly admissions, very costly medication burdens, and really a reduced quality of life. These patients are not able to function and day to day living the way that we hope that they will. We identified this early on as a really important unmet clinical need. Myself and a couple of engineers set about early on to try to think about creative ways of solving it.
Serafina: I completely understand the need in the marketplace. Can you tell me a little bit more about the device and the mechanics of it?
Jacob: Sure. One of the ways we actually came to this idea is realizing that a certain percentage of the population is born with a small hole in their heart. These patients, when they grow up, if they develop heart failure, they’re actually naturally protected from some of these symptoms of heart failure. This hole may have some protective benefit. That got us really early on thinking about how we might be able to apply that protective benefit to patients that weren’t born with this hole. Our device comes in through a four-millimeter puncture in the groin, we come up into the heart and create a connection that joins two chambers of the heart; one in which there is very high pressure, and one where there is very low pressure. What that does is it relieves the pressure in the high chamber, what’s called the left atrium, and that reduces a lot of the symptoms and a lot of the functional limitations that go along with this disease. We took a solution that we saw Mother Nature had and we tried to apply that to patients that didn’t necessarily have that protective benefit.
Serafina: Awesome. And then how did the team come together?
Jacob: Yeah, so the team is the four of us; it’s myself and three engineers. We were all brought together as part of the Texas Medical Center Biodesign Fellowship, which is a one-year fellowship based out of the TMC Innovation Institute. It basically brings together engineers, physicians and entrepreneurs, and you spend a year identifying unmet clinical needs. We’re in the hospital, we’re in the emergency rooms, we’re in the ambulance rides, and really looking for areas that are not being addressed properly or as well as we think they could be.
Serafina: So, you guys are physically making rounds around TMC?
Jacob: Yeah. So, we were partnering with surgeons and we were in the OR over their shoulder kind of looking at what they were doing and trying to understand ways that it could be made better. We went in ride alongs with ambulances and spent time kind of understanding their workflow and the issues they faced. When that was all said and done we had about four or five hundred unmet needs that we said, ok, these are all problems, but then we really started to filter them down and think about which of these have a good market behind them, which of these are really going to be impactful, which of them can we solve? Some of them were great unmet needs but we just didn’t have the technology or the toolkit to solve them. After that whole kind of filtering selection process heart failure stayed as this massive, massive, unmet need. And our backgrounds are all really aligned to address it, so we identified early on that this was the problem we wanted to work on.
Serafina: Speak a little more on your backgrounds.
Jacob: Sure, so I’m a cardiac surgery fellow. I’m training in New York, taking time out of that to run Alleviant. We have three engineers; two biomedical engineers, and then a product design engineer. All of them have really deep experience in medical device, specifically in cardiovascular devices. Myself, I’ve been kind of clinical through and through and haven’t had as much exposure to the med device and entrepreneurship scene. Having their expertise and understanding of how we actually go from a concept, to a physical prototype, to something that hopefully is going to impact patients’ lives was really helpful for me in my learning.
Serafina: Sounds like the dream team.
Jacob: It’s been a fantastic team and you know I never quite had such an appreciation for how an engineer can take an idea and develop a true, tangible product or a physical device around it. It’s been fantastic, and we have a great team that’s been executing.
Serafina: My next question would be, are you keen on staying in Houston?
Jacob: I love Houston. I grew up outside Boston, I’ve been in New York for most of my medical training, and so I didn’t know quite what to expect with Houston, but the food scene is incredible, the healthcare space is really just booming, and the biotech space is also just a lot of exciting things going on. You get the feeling there’s a real ecosystem brewing here, so it’s been an incredible place to start a company, it’s been an incredible place to learn about medtech entrepreneurship, so I definitely hope to maintain my ties here for sure.
Serafina: Well, we’d like to see you around. Thank you, Jake. It’s been a pleasure.
Jacob: Yeah, it’s been great.
Serafina: And that was The HealthMakers Show. I’m Serafina and this is Jacob Kriegel, CEO of Alleviant Medical.
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