Up & Running with InterShunt’s Harlee Sorkin of gBETA Medtech

September 6  

gener8tor, a nationally ranked accelerator program, has partnered with Boston Scientific to launch a healthcare-focused program in Medical Alley with additional support from the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic. Their first cohort wrapped up in June and the second cohort was announced in July.

Over the next few weeks, we will profile the second cohort of companies.

What does InterShunt do?

InterShunt is building a minimally-invasive surgical device that helps relieve the shortness of breath experienced by millions of people suffering from heart failure. We do this by creating an opening between the atrial chambers of the heart to relieve excess pressure that builds in the left atrium of these patients.

What difference does this make for patients?

Heart failure can be the result of a weak heart or a stiff heart, but regardless of the cause, the heart can’t effectively pump blood to the body. Since blood can’t circulate, it pools in the left atrium and backs up to the lungs. As fluid builds in the lungs, the patient loses the ability to effectively transfer inhaled oxygen, giving them the same sensation as if they were drowning.

We are creating an opening between the left and right atria that exists in every baby before they’re born, when they don’t breathe inhaled oxygen. After birth, this opening seals, separating oxygenated blood that flows from the lungs from deoxygenated blood that’s returning from the body. We were inspired by an early 20th century French physician, who noted that people in whom this opening never closed off had fewer, or even delayed, symptoms of heart failure. We were left wondering if there were cases where this naturally occurring phenomenon was an advantage, and if so, could we recreate it.

What motivated you to take on this issue?

Heart failure is not just a big medical problem, in many ways, it’s the biggest. These patients are gasping for air. For many of them, there is no course of treatment. A diagnosis is a death sentence that will be accompanied by a relentless and escalating feeling of discomfort. These patients are the #1 reason for hospitalization and the single largest medical expense, in part because there are so many of them. Almost 6 million Americans suffer from heart failure, and roughly 600,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. Our company was founded by an interventional cardiologist who understands the scope of the problem and was desperate to do something about it.

What did you do before starting this company?

I have run a medical ventures firm for the past five years. I have three partners, and we have all started and built medtech companies. We test concepts, seed the companies that pass, then we operate these businesses during the early stages. InterShunt is one of these companies.

I have also been able to help others commercialize technology through academic appointments with the University of Illinois and the National Science Foundation. My greatest prior success was with Traco Labs, a manufacturer of nutritional ingredients and pharmaceutical precursors, which we sold to Degussa AG and formed their BioActives business unit.

How can the Medical Alley community best support your work?

We’re actively looking for help navigating the process of bringing a heart failure device to market. We know there are multiple paths to bring our solution to people who need it, and all of these are complex decisions. We want people who are familiar with the benefits and pitfalls of each path to help guide us down the right one. When it comes to a building a cardiology catheter, there’s no place in the world with more experience than the Twin Cities. That’s why we came to Minneapolis to develop our product.

And finally, why participate in gBETA?

gBETA gives us the chance to embed in the Medical Alley/Minnesota ecosystem and foster connections in a matter of weeks that would take us months or even years to develop on our own. The mentorship is not one that simply nods and validates our thoughts. They have challenged us to do more, quicker. Since joining gBETA, we have already refined our plans to move more aggressively towards our goals.

About gBETA Medtech

gBETA Medtech is a free, seven-week accelerator that works with medical device, healthcare-related software, biotech and diagnostics startups. Part of gener8tor, a nationally ranked accelerator program, gBETA Medtech is in partnership with Boston Scientific and supported by the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota. For more information visit https://www.gbetamedtech.com/

To learn more about InterShunt visit https://intershunt.com/

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