Monday, October 27, 2008

Israel's CorAssist keeps a weak heart pumping

Karin Kloosterman October 27, 2008

Heart attacks grab headlines, they take lives. A little known fact is that millions of Americans are at risk of heart disease, with a full-blown heart attack being only one of the unfortunate consequences that can lead to death. With decades of experience taking cardiac-related biotech companies to market, in 2006 Amir Loshakove joined CorAssist. As its general manager, Loshakove is working once again with hearts. "The most exciting thing in the world is to treat hearts," he tells ISRAEL21c.

In the process of raising $15 million, CorAssist has already started human clinical trials using a small device that restores power to weakened heart muscles. According to Loshakove, there are two major conditions related to heart failure, namely, systolic and diastolic heart failure.

First to market

While some devices to treat systolic heart failure (SHF) are already in clinical trials, no devices to treat diastolic heart failure (DHF) are available. CorAssist's solution presents the first device-based approach to treat DHF, being a one-of-its-kind product in the market.

After a heart attack, or with heart muscle disease due to obesity and other conditions such as genetic defects, the heart muscles have a difficult time squeezing blood to the body (the systolic phase), and then back again into the heart (the diastolic phase). CorAssist is focusing on the second condition - DHF - where a person's heart inadequately relaxes, and is impaired in its capability to return blood from the body back to the heart.

According to the New York Heart Association, over five million people in the US suffer from heart failure. About half of these people suffer from diastolic heart failure, for which there is no effective treatment. Affecting mainly women, the overweight, smokers, and people with diabetes and other predisposing diseases and conditions, DHF results in the stiffening of the heart muscles.

Don't still my beating heart

CorAssist's main product is the ImCardia, which works from outside the heart. It's a self-expanding device that attaches to the external surface of the left ventricle. When the heart muscle squeezes, energy is loaded into the device, which absorbs this energy, and releases it to the left ventricle in the diastolic phase. This keeps the muscles elastic, giving it a small "work out" to improve heart health.

So far, safety studies on three people - in South America and Eastern Europe - have found the ImCardia safe for implantation. Next year, the company is gearing up for a larger trial. And it could take as little as two years for the company to get FDA approval, allowing the much-needed solution to be available in the US.

CorAssist is a 14-person company based in Herzylia, Israel. Founded in 2003 by three Israeli physicians - Yair Feld, Yotam Reisner and Shay Dubi - it keeps a number of world-renowned heart specialists and scientists on its advisory team, and includes Prof. William Little, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, North Carolina; Prof. Michael Zile from the Medical University of South Carolina, and Prof. Mitchell Krucoff from Duke University Medical Center.

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