Life Sciences Roundup

Topera quietly raises funds for heart technology

Robert Langer’s Living Proof makes beauty products. Robert Langer’s Living Proof makes beauty products. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File)
Xconomy.Com / March 21, 2011

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Topera Medical Inc., launched in 2008 in San Diego, has established a headquarters in the Boston area to develop a catheter system for rapidly identifying the source of irregular heart rhythms.

The Lexington-based firm, founded to commercialize the inventions of physician Sanjiv Narayan at the University of California San Diego, hired a former Boston Scientific Corp. executive, Edward Kerslake, as its chief executive in December. Kerslake evaluated emerging technologies as a corporate vice president at the Natick-based firm.

The company has raised an undisclosed amount of Series A financing from individual investors. Plans are to expand the round this year.

Topera has been operating with a low profile and only recently put up a website. Work on its technology has until now been conducted at UCSD, where chief scientific officer Narayan is an associate professor of medicine, and at the VA San Diego, where he is director of the electrophysiology.

Ruchir Sehra, who serves as chief medical officer of the Carlsbad, Calif.-based medical devices firm PhotoThera Inc., is a cofounder of Topera.

Topera’s executives are keeping many details about the firm’s technology under wraps until the Heart Rhythm Society annual meeting in San Francisco in May. Yet people with knowledge of the technology provided some general information.

Using catheters inserted in the heart, Topera detects electrical signals. Its software analyzes the signals to provide a two-dimensional electrophysiological map of the heart. The aim is to show how electricity is flowing in the heart, providing a way to view abnormal electrical flows that can sustain arrhythmias.

Atrial fibrillation, the most common arrhythmia, affects about 2.7 million Americans and is a cause of stroke and heart failure. Treatments for the complex disease include drugs to thin the blood and control heart rhythms as well as surgery. But many such procedures, which involve using catheter-based tools to ablate the heart tissue involved in the disease, end in failure. Part of the challenge is knowing which tissues to target.

Ryan McBride

Edimer Pharmaceuticals wants to break new ground in the treatment of an ultra-rare genetic disorder called X-linked hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, or XLHED, and the small operation in Cambridge is tapping the talents of some rare-disease veterans.

The firm, with primary backing from Third Rock Ventures LLC in Boston, has been laying the foundation for clinical trials for more than a year. Edimer has been doing various studies in hopes of asking regulators for permission to begin initial human trials of a protein-based drug for XLHED in the second half of this year, chief executive Neil Kirby says. The treatment has the potential to be the first drug specifically for the disorder.

A severe disease, it can cause patients to have few and pointed teeth, sparse hair, and thin skin. Most prevalent in boys, the disease can rob them of their ability to sweat.

It can also lead to frequent pulmonary infections because patients lack the ability to produce enough mucus to clear infectious invaders from their lungs. The infections can be fatal.

There are about 1,000 cases of the disease diagnosed in the United States and Europe per year, Kirby says. He certainly knows what it’s like to pursue a market like that, given his prior executive experience at Lexington-based Shire Human Genetic Therapies Inc. (formerly Transkaryotic Therapies) from 2002 to 2007. The scant incidence of XLHED places it in a category of ailments some call ultra-orphan diseases.

One advantage: Kirby knows of no other group that is developing a treatment for the disorder. Lack of competition may also mean strong demand for any effective new therapy. Cambridge-based Genzyme Corp., for example, has made billions selling rare-disease drugs.

Ryan McBride

Living Proof Inc., the Cambridge maker of beauty products cofounded by MIT inventor Bob Langer, raised $16 million in a Series B funding round. The money, from Piper Jaffray Merchant Banking and Polaris Venture Partners, will go toward product distribution and new research and development efforts.

■Gene therapy developer Bluebird Bio Inc. of Cambridge forged an agreement with the French Muscular Dystrophy Association to develop a treatment for the blood disorders beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia. The deal, worth $1.4 million upfront, entitles Bluebird to as much as $2.8 million worth of manufacturing at Généthon, the association’s biotherapy research center, to make material for clinical trials.

This report was compiled by the editors of Xconomy, a news website focused on the business of technology and innovation. For more New England coverage, visit