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Medical business takes a different approach to a common ailment

Arundhati Parmar

Neurostimulation seems to be the way that many companies, including Medtronic and St. Jude Medical, want to tackle high blood pressure or hypertension.

But while these two public Minnesota companies developing new innovative medical devices have taken the renal denervation route where nerves in the kidney are deactivated, another Minnesota company is adopting a different approach to reducing high blood pressure.

CVRx, a privately held company in Minneapolis, has developed a device that is designed to use the body’s own blood-flow regulation system to treat the condition. The company announced Thursday that it has received European approval to market its next-generation implantable device for reducing hypertension: the Barostim neo.

An improvement upon the original Rheos system, the Barostim neo provides electrical stimulation to activate the baroreceptors — the blood pressure sensors responsible for cardiovascular function — explained John Brintnall, CVRx’s chief financial officer, in an email.

When these sensors located in the carotid artery are stimulated, they respond by relaxing, thereby allowing blood to flow more easily. In turn, the heart does not have to pump that hard and can slow down, which gives it more time to fill with blood.

The Barostim neo has a new smaller, more advanced stimulator compared with the original Rheos system, among other advances.

Brintnall declined to comment on the renal denervation approach that Medtronic and St. Jude are developing to treat high blood pressure and whether CVRx’s therapy is better than what those companies will offer. Yet, like those companies, CVRx also believes the market opportunity is huge. About 76 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure and worldwide the number stands at 1 billion. The annual direct cost to treat this condition globally is $500 billion.

St. Jude is expecting European approval for its renal denervation device by the end of 2012. Medtronic is currently enrolling patients for a clinical trial to test its device. CVRx’s Brintnall declined to comment on the company’s U.S. strategy. He also declined to talk about annual revenue, or the number of employees CVRx has.

But Brintnall was forthcoming about how much money the company has raised to date from investors that include New Enterprise Associates and Kearny Venture Partners: $209 million.

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