Buffalo Business First – 43North: Asana Medical sees long-term growth and potential

Asana Medical is parlaying its $250,000 award from the 43North competition into a much larger investment round, ultimately seeking another $4.25 million by mid-2015.

The company was founded in 2013 in Miami Lakes, Fla., and is developing a therapy for ulcerative colitis that has shown tremendous promise in preclinical trials, its principals say. The raise will provide about two years of runway, hopefully culminating in human trials which will be used to prove the safety and effectiveness of the therapy.

Those trials will be critically important toward the eventual goal of approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and potentially give Asana Medical a therapy that is less expensive, less invasive and more effective than the other options, including drugs and surgery.

Given that ulcerative colitis treatment is a multi-billion dollar market, the company’s principals are excited about the company’s long-term potential.

It is also personally exciting for co-founder and CEO Marc Ramer, who launched Asana Medical after seeing a family member suffer from ulcerative colitis, including harsh side effects from drugs and surgical option that includes removal of the colon.

“I said, ‘There’s got to be a better way,” said Ramer, whose previous experience includes nearly two decades as a biomedical engineer in the medical device industry.

Asana Medical’s core product takes existing technology which is already used to treat hernia meshes and burn and wound dressings, and applies it to portions of the colon that have been damaged by ulcerative colitis. The material gels to affected portion of the colon, both repairing the tissue and protecting it from further damage. It isn’t exactly a cure, but it is a long-term solution that can send ulcerative colitis into remission and allow patients to live normal lives.

The technology qualifies as a medical device, giving Asana Medical a much more efficient pathway to federal approval than a drug.

The company is collaborating with Dr. Stephen Badylak of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh to fully develop the product and do preclinical work.

For now, only Gerard Coombs, the company’s executive vice president, will have a residence in Buffalo, though Ramer plans to travel here regularly. 43North winners must operate the company from Buffalo for at least a year to redeem their cash prize. The company is also considering an application to the Start-Up NY tax breaks program, which is a critical part of the strategy to keep 43North winners in Buffalo long-term.

The company is being mentored by Brian Pusch, an attorney and member of the Buffalo Angels who’s spent much of his career working with biomedical startups. Investors from Western New York and beyond have shown interest in the company’s fundraising round, which will start by seeking to raise $750,000 via promissory notes that will convert into a Series A round along with another $3.5 million in venture capital.

Coombs will hire another employee to assist him from Buffalo, but the plan is to keep Asana Medical’s footprint relatively small and rely on its experienced management team and board, which includes various medical experts and serial entrepreneurs. Expenses will be focused on ensuring the continued testing and development of the product.

As the company continues to make progress, it is also developing its eventual market strategy, Coombs said. That could involve acquisition from a major medical company or a partner who can help with business development and manufacturing.

“Given that this is personal for me, I’ve never felt this level of passion for a job,” Ramer said. “I know the suffering caused by ulcerative colitis and I want to alleviate it.”

As reported in Buffalo Business First