PATHFINDER TECHNOLOGIES, the Nashville-based surgical-navigation technology and devices venture that launched 10 years ago with substantial local and regional investment and IP developed at Vanderbilt University, is in transition to likely new owners, VNC understands.
The prospective buyer is said by some sources to be B-K Medical, owned by Peabody, Mass.-based Analogic Corporation (NASDAQ:ALOG). Analog, market cap $840MM, has not yet responded to a query on the matter. VNC also understands the planned transaction remains in-process.
Though not a role the company sought, Pathfinder has for more than a decade served as a case-in-point for Nashville regarding both the prospects and the challenges of commercializing sophisticated technologies and investing in the typically lengthy lifesciences venture process, marked as that process is by regulatory hurdles and capital intensity. One observer noted that Pathfinder and BioMimetic Therapeutics have spurred further lifesciences startup interest. BioMimetic was acquired by Wright Medical in early 2013 in a reported $380MM transaction.
► For previous VNC coverage on Pathfinder since 2008, check here.
Pathfinder's website notes that it is "the first company to receive FDA clearance for a [surgery] navigation system designed specifically for the abdomen. It is in use at some of America's top cancer centers including Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Mo., and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City."
Surgeries of the liver have long been Pathfinder's primary target, though surgeries for kidneys and other soft-tissue organs have previously been cited as additional candidates. To some extent, its efforts built upon earlier achievements at Vanderbilt and elsewhere in the field of brain surgery.
The company's site today lists relationships with the University of Florida; Barnes-Jewish Hospital; Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Akron General Medical Center; The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and, The University of Louisville.
Hundreds of surgeries have been performed using Pathfinder technologies, and several persons interviewed said they are glad to see the technology put into position to reach more patients.
Pathfinder has also helped produce other benefits. The Vanderbilt University website for technology transfer and commercialization of VU intellectual property now bears what seem to be numerous examples of related research, development and commercialization, particularly in Medical Devices and Medical Imaging categories. This may reflect the interdisciplinary collaboration to which Vanderbilt has long been dedicated.
VNC notes, too, that Pathfinder has continued during the past two years to pursue U.S. patent protection for assets within its IP estate. And, one person noted that, apart from its technology for use during surgery, Pathfinder has built "pre-planning surgical software" that may have broad implications and uses, particularly in the hands of a well capitalized and synergistic owner.
To an extent surprising to some, local investors eventually rose to the challenge of properly funding Pathfinder, though it was, according to one observer, Hatteras Venture Capital of Durham, N.C., that kept the financial burner lighted, at some pivotal junctures.
Local Angels, the State's TNInvestco program also played a major role, as did a federally funded, state-administered co-investment program.
VNC estimates the company has received perhaps $10.5MM in the past 10 years, principally from Hatteras and TNInvestco funds Limestone Fund (an affiliate of Mountain Group Capital) and TriStar Technology Fund (an affiliate of TriStar Technology Ventures).
One or both the oft-matched pair of TNInvestcos participated in nearly a dozen Pathfinder transactions, during 2010-2013, according to state records online.
Other stakeholders who were disclosed at various points during the past 10 years, in addition to the founders and Vanderbilt University, where the company's cornerstone technology was developed, include Nashville Capital Network (NCN), Florida Gulfshore Capital, Clayton Associates, Lumira Capital and the State of Tennessee's INCITE co-investment program, according to announcements and media reports over the years.
NCN Angels were among the earliest locals to sign-on to support Pathfinder. At one point, NCN Executive Director Sid Chambless told VNC that NCN has savvy tech investors aboard and is continually working to diversify its membership to meet the needs of many industries, particularly those related to technologies.
In that 2011 VNC story, Chambless cited Pathfinder Therapeutics as example. He explained that investors "who weren't as knowledgeable about the technology participated because they knew that the investment had been properly diligenced and there would be professional oversight by investors with Med Tech experience," he said.
Three years earlier, a Pathfinder CEO asserted there was too little local support, as reported here. The play-through of the TNInvestco program and sharply increased entrepreneurial activity in and around Vanderbilt are among factors that may have helped change the situation. Related stories here and here.
VNC also research also shows Pathfinder has also been awarded grants from Gov. Bill Haslam's INCITE Co-investment Fund (administered by LaunchTN and funded through a U.S. Treasury Department program); and, from an Affordable Care Act (ACA)-driven Therapeutic Discovery Project operated by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS); and, a heft $3.2MM in earlier grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The company lists six founders on its website. They include, listed alphabetically, William C. Chapman, M.D. (Barnes Jewish); Benoit Dawant, PhD, VU School of Engineering; Robert Galloway, PhD (VU professor of Biomedical Engineering, Neurologic Surgery and General Surgery); Alan Herline, M.C. (VU Medical Center); Michael Miga, PhD, (VU School of Engineering); and, Jim Stefansic, PhD, (VU School of Engineering). VNC