Impel NeuroPharma – Interview with Dr. John Hoekman

Impel NeuroPharma, a UW spin-out, winner of UW’s own Business Plan Competition, and 2013 Silver Award holder of Seattle Business magazine’s category of Innovation in Medical Devices, delivers a medical device to deposit drugs into the upper nasal cavity that no one in the industry can match.

For decades, pharmaceutics have been limited by their inability to cross the blood brain barrier in patients. Patients have to spend more on their medication and risk suffering from large dose side effects due to low bioavailability of drugs administered through alternative routes. Researchers have spent much effort in finding a non-invasive method of administer therapeutics into the brain or systemically.

A segment of the medical device industry, the nasal drug delivery market saw a surge in the early 21st century, with market size estimated to be about $8.5 Billion dollars. In addition, the market has been growing at a rate of 20% annually until recently, which slowed down to still a sizable 6% in 2013. Of the total market, 70-80% consists of highly competitive and low-profit OTC decongestants and allergy therapy that only requires delivery of drugs to the lower nasal cavity. The rest, which are systemic therapies including vaccines, hormones, migraine treatments, pain management, etc. require effective delivery to the upper nasal cavity where the drugs can enter the bloodstream. This 20-30% of the market has very high entry to barrier, lucrative profit margin and few competitors (market summary by Andy Fry http://www.slideshare.net/team_medical/dont-turn-yournoseupatnasaldeliveryi5). Impel, developing pioneering technology in the field, targets specifically the players in this top percentile of the market, servicing the most advanced technology.

In the Biotech industry, proven scientific results are the gold measure to attract collaboration and establish customer relationships. The founders of Impel spend much of their time perfecting their Precision Olfactory Delivery (POD) device to obtain solid data to support their claims as the best in category. Showing promising results from early studies at scientific meetings, showcase conferences, discussing findings with thought leaders and prominent scientist in the field, as well as the decision makers of pharmaceutical companies, Impel has secured relationships with a number of Big Pharma. Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. John Hoekman, noted in the interview that, unlike most IT and consumer start-ups who have to generate lots of publicity and acquire users, seed-stage companies in the Biotech and Pharma industries reply on a solid track record of success to gain attention from the big firms. John’s take-home message was: To be a successful Biotech firm, you have to essentially hit the target 100% all the time!

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