Medical device start-up neoSurgical goes for closure after surgery

7 Jan 2013

Barry Russell, CEO of neoSurgical; and Brian O'Neill from Enterprise Ireland at the Medical Technology Industry Awards in Galway in December

Last month, neoSurgical received the ‘silver’ emerging medical technology company of the year award at the Medical Technology Industry Awards. We caught up with CEO Barry Russell and found out how the venture has grown, how neoSurgical’s technology aims to improve closure after laparoscopic abdominal surgery and what winning the award means for the company.

Russell, who founded neoSurgical in 2008, had previously worked with Boston Scientific and as a franchise director with Johnson & Johnson in Ireland. That’s when he got to see first-hand the challenges that surgeons faced, particularly in laparoscopic or ‘keyhole’ procedures.

“I found myself as a commercial person working within the operating theatre environment, and working with consultant surgeons around Ireland and beyond,” he recalls. “I started to see some opportunities and some gaps in the [array] of devices that were supplied to laparoscopic surgeons, in particular. I took those opportunities and ideas and I started to develop them around the business which became neoSurgical.”

Today, the company employs around a dozen people at sites in Galway – where Ronan Keating directs R&D – in Dublin and in the US. Russell describes how the expertise comes from various “gene pools” in Ireland’s medical-technology sector – for example, members of the neoSurgical team were previously with Johnson & Johnson, MedNova and Abbott Vascular.

“We started out trying to develop a suite of devices in parallel,” he recalls. “But we quickly found out it was difficult to raise funding to do that, particularly as a first-time entrepreneurial team.”

So the company has initially focused on commercialising its “first-born” product, which is called neoClose.

“It solves an old problem of laparoscopic [abdominal] surgery,” explains Russell. “The access device creates the hole, or way to get in and complete the surgery, but there was never a well-defined device-based solution for actually repairing or closing that defect once you remove the access device. The surgical consequence of not doing that is a complication called a hernia, which can happen post-operatively. It has a reasonably low incidence but it can have quite a significant morbidity and in some cases a mortality attached to it.”

Closure device

To address the issue, neoClose semi-automates the closure procedure: “We now have developed a very simple, intuitive device that finally gives surgeons a device-based option to routinely close those port sites which they choose to close,” Russell claims.

He anticipates the device will receive CE and FDA approval in 2013, and the company has been developing a distribution network in the US. neoSurgical has also built a partnership with Steripack, as Russell explains.   

“When we started to build the business model, it was always my ambition that we would be very strong at the back end around product invention and ideation, and also at the front end where we interface with the customer – we are building those two competencies and putting them together,” he says.

“The piece in the middle was where we were looking for a strategic outsource partner to complete the manufacturing of the device, and Steripack is a very important partner for us. It allows us to focus on the business model we set out for ourselves, which we believe will capture the value that we want to capture.”

In mid-December, neoSurgical received the silver emerging medical technology company of the year award at the Medical Technology Industry Awards, which were jointly hosted by Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the Irish Medical Devices Association, a business sector within IBEC.

Russell sees the award as a validation from peers that the company is doing a good job. “It’s nice to get that recognition,” he says. “And from the perspective of where we are right now with the business, we are just about to launch internationally and an award from your peers locally will very much resonate with the distributors.”

The award should also be music to the ears of the company’s funders, notes Russell, who include Kernel Capital, Enterprise Ireland and private investors.

“We are still a funded business and we are seeking further funding rounds,” he says. “[The award] gives us further credibility with our funders that we are on the right track.” is hosting Med Tech Focus, an initiative which over coming months will cover news, reports, interviews and videos, documenting Ireland’s leading role in one of the hottest sectors in technology.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication