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Cardio-Vascular

Cell Wraps to Repair Blood Vessels

11 years, 8 months ago

556  0
Posted on Oct 09, 2006, 8 a.m. By Bill Freeman

In the past decade, artery repair has become one of the most lucrative industries in healthcare, spawning billion-dollar companies like Boston Scientific Corp. that make equipment to keep blood flowing smoothly through the body's most important vessels. Now a small Cambridge start-up company is trying to go one better: fixing arteries and veins not with tools, but by wrapping them in a gelatinous sheath of living, healthy cells.

In the past decade, artery repair has become one of the most lucrative industries in healthcare, spawning billion-dollar companies like Boston Scientific Corp. that make equipment to keep blood flowing smoothly through the body's most important vessels. Now a small Cambridge start-up company is trying to go one better: fixing arteries and veins not with tools, but by wrapping them in a gelatinous sheath of living, healthy cells.

Pervasis Therapeutics Inc. is only now starting to test its product in humans. It hopes to finish tests in a handful of patients by the end of the year. But investors have already been attracted by the company's idea and its blue-chip scientific founders: So far, it has raised $15 million in backing from a small group of the region's top venture capitalists.

The birth of Pervasis reads like a playbook for how the closely networked Boston life-science world hatches a company. The biggest name on the door is cofounder Robert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, perhaps the region's single most prolific biomedical inventor. He cofounded it with Joseph Vacanti , a specialist in engineering living organs, and cardiologist Elazer Edelman, of Brigham & Women's Hospital.

Edelman, now a professor at Harvard and MIT, once studied in Langer's lab, as did one of its early venture investors. Another cofounder, Helen Nugent, studied under Edelman. Langer and Vacanti, a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, coauthored an influential early article on tissue engineering. And the company's first dollop of funding, $250,000, was awarded in 2002, when a professor at MIT's Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation tapped Langer on the shoulder and asked him if he had any potential companies up his sleeve.

The problem Pervasis hopes to tackle is widespread. Damage to blood vessels, whether from long-term disease or sudden injury, can cause enormous, even fatal problems.

``If you get a cut in your arm and it heals, you get a nice scar. But if you cut an artery or a vein, you get a disruption of the inside lining of the vessel," said Stephen Bolliger , the chief executive of Pervasis.

Doctors have devised numerous ways to open damaged vessels, either with drugs or with tiny mechanical tools threaded into the blood vessels themselves. Dozens of companies, including the major device manufacturers, are competing for the same prize: A way to fix damaged arteries or veins while minimizing future trouble. The field's biggest success story, the drug-coated stents that prop heart arteries open and emit a drug to keep them clear, now appear to cause troublesome side effects years after being implanted, and their manufacturers are all racing to find the next idea.

The solution Pervasis is trying, in Langer's words, is a ``cellular Band-aid" -- a soft wrapper lined with a healthy colony of living blood-vessel cells.

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