By Andrew Seale
Before taking the helm at CellAegis Devices, Rocky Ganske was skeptical. Then again, three and a half decades in the medical devices and life sciences sphere will do that to you. But the idea sounded a little out there: using the body’s self defence mechanisms to protect the heart muscles in case of a heart attack.
So he sat down with the founders of CellAegis, Dr. Andrew Redington, head of Cardiology at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, and Dr. Christopher Caldarone, professor and chair of the Division of Cardiac Surgery, University of Toronto, and Staff Cardiovascular Surgeon at SickKids.
Their AutoRIC device, an inflatable arm cuff that automatically delivers a type of therapy called Remote Ischemic Conditioning (hence the RIC) in the aftermath of a heart attack or stroke, showed promise, capable of reducing damage to organs by up to 50 per cent.
“I was hooked because it really made sense what they were trying to do with CellAegis – solving body injury by enabling the body to fix itself,” says Ganske. “The simplicity of it… the innate mechanism that was there that we all know as our own fight or flight mechanism, it just made all the sense in the world.”
Ganske joined the board in 2008 and took over as CEO in 2010. Since then the device has over 100 completed and ongoing trials with more than 20,000 patients world-wide.
“I’ve been in this business for 35 years and I’ve never seen a technology (with) that much interest in the way of funded research,” says Ganske. Today the device is used extensively, with over 100 Halton-Peel region ambulances carrying CellAegis’ AutoRIC.
“We’ve raised just under $20 million to get to where we are and just closed another round,” he says. There’s an FDA trial underway south of the border and they’re looking to get early commercialization in Europe underway.”
“It’s a very exciting technology, very simple,” he says. “And (we’re) a Toronto company, with a Toronto technology and a product manufactured in Toronto – I think this starts to set a catalyst for maybe yet another one of those examples the funders can look to and say that was one we grew here in Toronto.”
Ganske points to the adage that “high tides life all boats.”
“The more examples of what we can do, the better we’ll all be,” he says adding that the ecosystem in Toronto has come leaps and bounds since he moved here from Madison, Wisconsin in 2003. “We’ve got Mars and JLABS and places for incubation to occur.”
He points out that while there are obviously still challenges surrounding funding beyond that initial startup phase, the so-called “valley of death” has helped ensure the most commercially viable ideas are the ones that endure.
But Ganske harbours no illusions that he’s living in a silo, that entrepreneurs like him and others in the life sciences sphere are exempt from contributing to the ecosystem.
“We try to do as much to give back as we can because, we understand building the ecosystem helps us all,” he says. “Eventually, the entrepreneur game is to work yourself out of a job and get to an exit and you’d like to hope you’ve been good at plowing the ground in the ecosystem so there’s a place for you to land and do it again.”