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Less than a year after launching its one-of-a-kind Medical Accelerator, the University of Utah is graduating its first research-based company from the facility. The company is Catheter Connections, which produces an infection-control device that protects patients from infection during intravenous infusion therapy. The device has the potential to prevent thousands of infections and deaths caused by contaminated IV catheters and IV administration sets in hospitals in the U.S.
University startups, like Catheter Connections, and other companies can rent space at the accelerator to develop and fabricate a wide range of medical devices. A short list of resources provided by the accelerator include office space, lab space, a business center, conference rooms, clean room, hand tools, lathe, mill, laser welder and an array of testing equipment.
Catheter Connections was the first company in the accelerator. It is still based there, and recently graduated from an early-stage startup to a fully commercial company with a product that is available to hospitals and medical practitioners around the country. Its first product, the DualCap, just went on the market. DualCap is a disposable, single-use medical device containing two caps one for the exposed end of an IV administration set and one for the luer access valve of the patients IV catheter. Each cap contains 70 percent isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and a patent-pending delivery system that keeps IPA out of the fluid path. It is the only device that protects and disinfects IV administration sets and IV catheter access valves.
"The accelerator is having exactly the type of impact that we expected," says Wayne Parris, business manager. "We are providing companies with essential tools, space and resources to give them a jumpstart into a profitable future. The facility is a tremendous resource for researchers and inventors in this area who want to develop medical devices but dont have a million dollars to spend on office space and specialized equipment."
Parris adds, "Catheter Connections is at least 10 months ahead of where they would be without this infrastructure. The fact that they are now ready to sell product proves the accelerator model works."
The Medical Accelerator is housed in the universitys Technology Commercialization Office, which manages the schools intellectual property and is part of the Technology Venture Development office. The accelerator was a joint venture between the university and the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) to boost medical device startups on campus and in the community.
University administrators credit efforts like the accelerator when explaining how the University of Utah recently became the No. 1 institution in the country at creating startup companies based on university research, ahead of institutions like MIT, Columbia and Johns Hopkins, according to the Association of University Technology Managers.
"We have put a lot of effort into creating programs and resources that our faculty and startups need to succeed in the marketplace," says Jack Brittain, the universitys vice president for technology venture development. "Our programs range from one-on-one counseling for faculty inventors to providing lab equipment to startups that are developing highly specialized products. The Medical Accelerator is a great example of these efforts, and we are pleased with its success so far."
Catheter Connections was originally formed in 2008 when Michael Howlett and James Mercer, two nurses at Salt Lake Citys George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center, invented a single-use device that they designed to disinfect and protect all IV catheter access points. Their idea was turned into the DualCap.
Howlett and Mercer lacked the necessary research, development and business resources to get their idea into hospitals. That's when the two inventors decided to partner with the University of Utah Technology Venture Development office, which helped them find the people and resources to help turn their invention into reality.
One such person, University of Utah professor of bioengineering Robert Hitchcock, and co-founder of Catheter Connections, performed early development work for the company. Six months into the project, he enlisted graduate students James Kennedy and Richard Lasher, who helped transform the DualCap from a prototype into a fully functional medical device. Both Kennedy and Lasher were immersed in high-level device engineering and were soon key members of the development team.
"The experience these students received is truly unique in an educational environment," Hitchcock says. "They are now experienced professionals who are capable of developing state-of-the-art medical devices and future healthcare innovations."
The DualCap received U.S. Food and Drug Administration marketing clearance on April 8, 2010. It was awarded the Stoel Rives Utah Innovation Award for Medical Devices on April 30, 2010. In addition to Howlett, Mercer and Hitchcock, co-founders of Catheter Connections include CEO Vicki Farrar, esq. and president and COO Donald Solomon, PhD.