Treating obesity is complicated. The disease itself and the mechanics of weight loss are complicated, with many contributing factors leading to different outcomes. It’s not an area in which RiverVest would typically invest, but Standard Bariatrics had several key elements working in its favor. Here’s how this deal came together.
Getting Funded: The Need Beyond the Seed
Cincinnati-based bariatric surgeon Jonathan Thompson, M.D., founded Standard Bariatrics in 2014 to address key unmet needs for weight-loss surgery confirmed by his bariatric surgeon colleagues. He attracted seed investors from the local biotech community to fund the company, hire key employees, and develop a first-generation device.
The greater challenge was getting the company’s lead product Titan SGS® developed and financed all the way through commercialization.
The problem that Dr. Thompson and the team at Standard Bariatrics were determined to solve was the difficulty in achieving a consistent, straight resection line in gastric sleeve surgery, the most common procedure in treating morbid obesity. For the past two decades, surgeons had relied on short, six-centimeter general-purpose surgical staplers to perform sleeve gastrectomy, which required surgeons to go in and out of the patient multiple times to fire five to seven cartridges into stretchy stomach tissue to complete the resection.
Standard Bariatrics’ Titan SGS™ 23-centimeter, anatomy-based device could resect the patient’s entire stomach in a single firing, avoiding overlapping staple lines. The result would be a symmetrical sleeve shape and stronger staple line that is more resistant to leaks.
But, from an engineering perspective, was a 23cm stapler even possible?
When first approached about the device, RiverVest Vice President Karen Spilizewski wasn’t convinced. Deeply embedded in the medical device research and development ecosystem in Ohio, Karen is often approached by very early-stage entrepreneurs like Dr. Thompson. Standard Bariatrics did not meet RiverVest’s disciplined investment criteria at that time.