Feeding tubes are not as harmless as they seem. Every year in the U.S. over 40,000 feeding tubes are mistakenly placed into a patient's lungs, which results in an estimated 6,000 deaths. But a University of Utah startup company, Veritract Inc., hopes to end these risks by making the placement of feeding tubes much safer and faster.
Veritract is developing a "Smart Feeding Tube" equipped with a live camera and steering mechanism that enables doctors to place feeding tubes into the stomach with much more accuracy than current technology allows. The company has made substantial progress toward developing a commercial product for doctor and patient use, with $820,000 already secured in an early round of funding.
Dr. John Fang, the founder of Veritract and the clinical director of the University of Utah Division of Gastroenterology, developed the feeding tube technology with students in the BioDesign program at the university. "Misplacement of a feeding tube in a patient's lung is something that is avoidable, and it is our goal to get a product to market that will improve patient care," says Fang.
Veritract plans to use the money to further refine its product and seek regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which is a major hurdle before the Smart Feeding Tube can be used in hospitals.
Company founders and University of Utah officials are hopeful that Veritract will be able to offer its device to hospitals in the near future. They say the company is considered one of the most promising startups that have come out of the university in recent years. The University of Utah has helped create more than 100 startup companies in the last six years.
"Veritract is a great example of the commercialization program we have developed at the university, taking promising ideas and providing support and encouragement to the inventor," says Jack Brittain, University of Utah vice president for technology venture development.
The early investment round, called a "Series A" round, was led by Kickstart Seed Fund (www.kickstartseedfund.com) and Salt Lake Life Science Angels (www.SLLSA.com). Other investors include the Knox Opportunity Fund and the University Venture Fund.
Veritract has received grants from the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR), the Utah State Centers of Excellence and the University of Utah Research Foundation. Its products have received a number of accolades, including the 2009 Invented in Utah Award, as well as runner-up in the 2009 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge and finishing as a finalist in the 2011 Utah Innovation Awards.
Additionally, students from the David Eccles School of Business's Lassonde New Venture Development Center worked with Fang to analyze the market for the new feeding tube and draft a business plan to help launch the company.
"The Lassonde Center students and the University's Technology Venture Development Office have played a key role in helping us go from idea to company," Fang notes. "The entire ecosystem in the state that includes USTAR, the Governor's Office of Economic Development, the Angel and Seed funds have been critical to our success. This is a very difficult environment to start a company, even with a promising technology such as ours. Without all the support we would not be where we are today."