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October 5, 2016

Company raises $7.5M for portable stroke detection device

The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — San Diego medical device start-up Burl Concepts, which has developed a portable ultrasound device to detect strokes in the field, said Tuesday that it has raised $3 million in a second round of funding.

The new capital brings the total amount raised by the company to $7.5 million. The money will be used to support product development and sales as the 10-employee company’s device, called Sonas, readies for an initial set of clinical trials later this year.

Founded in 2013, Burl Concepts is based on the research of Thilo Hoelscher, a neurologist who previously served as a professor at  UC San Diego, where he founded the UCSD Brain Ultrasound Research Laboratory.

Hoelscher patented technology behind a portable battery powered ultrasound device for detecting and potentially treating strokes. Some of his research over the years was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and he performed pilot trials of the technology in his native Germany.

Strokes are “the most time sensitive disease we have,” said Hoelscher.  “Once a vessel is blocked and the brain cells are not being supplied with oxygen, two million brain cells die every minute.”

About 800,000 people suffer strokes each year in the U.S. Even severe strokes can be treated, but not every hospital has the capability, said Hoelscher.

Having Sonas in an ambulance to diagnose a stroke in the field allows paramedics to send patients to the best treatment center.

“It’s not getting to the hospital as fast as possible but getting to the right hospital as fast as possible,” said Hoelscher.

Hoelscher and Jim Brailean, a Ph.D. electrical engineer who founded PacketVideo in San Diego, began talking shortly after Brailean’s mother had a minor stroke, was misdiagnosed and sent home from the hospital, only to suffer a more severe stroke, he said.

Brailean tapped his signal processing expertise to help make Sonas “an incredibly safe device,” he said. “And coming out of the cellular world and the technology improvements there, it’s a very low cost device.”

Brailean sees every ambulance, senior community and life flight helicopter as potential customers.

For now, Burl Concepts has positioned Sonas as a portable early detection device. But it has the potential to be more than that, said Hoelscher. It eventually could be used to pave the way for treatment in the field, including using ultrasound itself.

“A lot of my work at UCSD, and a lot of NIH funded work, was on that topic -- how to use ultrasound in combination or just by itself for therapeutic purposes in the field,” said Hoelscher.

The recent funding round was led by Acquipharma, which joined some high net-worth individuals in backing Burl Concepts.

Acquipharma is headed by Oppel Greeff, a medical doctor and a former executive with publicly traded Quintiles Transnational Corp.

“Jim and Thilo have a real passion for improving stroke detection combined with an ingenious and highly practical technology solution that meets a widespread, global need,” Greeff said in a statement. “We’re excited to come aboard to help them achieve their vision.”

Copyright 2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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