• Date: May 29, 2019

Aortyx, a spin-off from IQS, is currently developing a minimally invasive treatment for aortic dissection based on an innovative patch. Two years on from its participation in CaixaImpulse, we caught up with Jordi Martorell, who talked us through the project’s development and its key objectives for the future.

Jordi Martorell

Jordi, who is also an IQS professor, explained that he shifted his area of research to aneurysms and aortic dissections in 2014 after speaking to an IQS student who suffers from a potentially fatal aortic disease. He wanted to understand how an aneurysm – an overexpansion of the aorta – can develop and lead to an aortic tear or dissection. With a mortality rate of up to 50%, such tears are extremely serious.

The two main treatment types currently available for aortic dissections are open surgery, a highly aggressive and invasive procedure with a mortality rate near 30%, and endovascular repair, which is available to less than a third of patients and requires follow-up surgery.

In light of this, Jordi and his team recognised an urgent need for a minimally invasive treatment for aortic dissection, as well as one which addressed the mechanical and biological mismatch between current grafts and the aortic vessel. In 2015, they developed the idea of building a bioadhesive patch to cover just the aortic tear, rather than the whole vessel. Their graft, which has mechanical properties similar to those of healthy vessels, encourages aortic wall regeneration, thus improving patient outcomes. From here, they instantly got to work developing the biocompatible and biodegradable patch material, and a means of deploying it in a way that is minimally invasive to the patient.

In addition to developing the product, the Aortyx team has been taking part in a number of entrepreneur training programs during the past five years, including CaixaImpulse in 2017. “That was a gamechanger” says Jordi. “We had the idea and some of the technology when we started CaixaImpulse, but the money from CaixaImpulse led us to be able to have a much better technology, and that was very important. But also the courses on entrepreneurship and the questions that we should ask ourselves, the stakeholders that we needed to meet – learning all these things that are just as important as the technology – that was all thanks to CaixaImpulse, their programme and their mentorship.” One of his highlights during CaixaImpulse was being reminded that it would be their last time receiving funding as a research project – they were now moving into the realm of business development. “It gave us the opportunity to make it true, to make it tangible, and for me that’s one of the key aspects for CaixaImpulse – things become tangible.”

Jordi explained that CaixaImpulse helped Aortyx to develop a roadmap from product to market. They are currently finishing their proof-of-concept experiments, and in parallel, they are working towards meeting all the quality, regulatory, manufacturing and legal requirements and milestones. If all goes to plan, they expect to commence four months of animal experimentation later this year, conduct first in human studies in 2021, and then hit the market by 2024.

Jordi’s advice to a would-be entrepreneur looking to start-up a business in the life sciences is that “you can never be too prepared. It is worth dedicating the amount of time and effort that is actually required. Think about what you want to sell, how you want to sell it, and to whom.” He adds, “once you believe that you have the right roadmap, go full throttle. But first, think very carefully about what the company is. It’s worth delaying as much as you need to start. But once you start, don’t stop.”

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