George Kramer: A New Leash On Veterinary Surgery
By GREGORY ZELLER //INNOVATELI
After years in pre-op, a Bohemia startup is preparing to redefine veterinary surgery.
Veteran vet George Kramer launched Ultravet Medical Devices in 2009 primarily as a research project. As a veterinary cardiologist with his own practice – Bohemia’s Atlantic Coast Veterinary Specialists – he repeatedly confronted the same diseases and the same frustrations.
Dogs and cats can be afflicted with the same heart diseases as those that hound humans, and similar treatments are often prescribed.
“I’ve put in pacemakers,” Kramer noted. “I’ve done many interventional procedures that are very similar to things done to people.”
And therein lies the problem for veterinarians like Kramer, who must master these procedures using medical devices designed specifically for people, not pets.
Big medical-device makers like Irish conglomerate Medtronic and Massachusetts-based Boston Scientific are known for their whiz-bang innovations for treating human patients, Kramer noted, but “really show very little interest in the veterinary market.”
“I felt there was a significant, unmet clinical need for the development of veterinary medical devices for use in dogs and cats,” he added. “So I focused on problems that we most commonly find don’t have good medical solutions.”
For instance: degenerative valve disease, a bane of small-breed dogs. According to Kramer, more than 2 million U.S. canines suffer congestive heart failure annually due to degenerative-valve complications, and veterinarians can’t do much about it.
“We’re left with medical treatment options that can extend their life to a certain extent and alleviate some of the clinical signs,” Kramer noted. “But it’s not a cure.”
In a human, degenerative valve disease would lead to valve-replacement or valve-repair surgery. While open-heart surgery on dogs can be done, “it’s a big undertaking,” the doctor said, made even bigger by the general lack of appropriate tools.
Kramer’s research project took him deep into the world of medical-device design. He attended years’ worth of national medical-innovation conferences, taking notes and picking brains. While the conferences were geared toward human treatments, the veterinarian cherry-picked his topics and technologies and “applied what I was learning to the veterinary world.”
Ultimately, he learned enough to design a bronchial stent and two different replacement valves scaled for dogs and cats, one inserted through the jugular vein, the other through the leg.
Now, with provisional patents on all three devices, Ultravet has leapt into operational mode. Kramer – a graduate of Tufts University’s veterinary school who did his residency at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan – is pushing hard into the prototyping stage, with the intent of beginning clinical trials soon.
He handled the early prototyping himself, creating proof-of-concept models with the support of a $30,000 Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and a $150,000 personal investment. Satisfied with the design, he’s now looking for a professional manufacturer to complete the final prototyping, he said, and is weighing bids from makers in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
The CEO is also in full-on fundraising mode. Kramer, who made his case to investors at a recent LaunchPad Huntington pitch night, is looking to raise $500,000 – roughly $150,000 for the final engineering and design phase and $350,000 for clinical-trial administration.
“We’ve gotten a lot of interest since doing the (LaunchPad) pitch,” Kramer noted. “We haven’t gotten any checks yet, but we’re still talking to investors.”
Once funding is secured, Ultravet Medical Devices will waste no time commencing its field tests. Kramer said there are “sites that have lined up” to take part, including veterinary cardiology practices and other specialty clinics in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California, while patients from his own Atlantic Coast Veterinary Specialists will also take part.
The two-year study will involve about 100 dogs, Kramer said, which sounds like a small sampling but is fairly standard for veterinary research.
“(Veterinary) studies are much smaller than similar studies on the human side, because the infrastructure is not there and the funding is not there,” he noted. “But we did a statistical power analysis and we’re expecting significant effects by these devices. Based on those statistics, the study size should be adequate.”
So, if the trials commence this year – and “they definitely will,” Kramer promised – a best-case scenario sees the devices commercially available within 12 months. The first phase of the trials, lasting about a year, will involve surgical implantation and post-op monitoring; the second phase will track longer-term results, with the products already on the market.
From there, Kramer is predicting a bright future for Ultravet Medical Devices, projecting $50 million or more in annual revenue within five years.
“You’re looking at selling 20,000 to 25,000 units a year, and that’s just across the United States and Canada,” he said. “The clinical need is huge.”
Ultravet Medical Devices
What’s It? Stents, valves and other medical devices designed for pets
Brought To You By: Veteran veterinarian George Kramer
All In: About $180,000, including a $150,000 personal investment and a $30,000 crowdfunding campaign
Status: Talking to investors, preparing for clinical trials