Virtual Possibilities Inc. (“VPI”) is a medical device startup commercializing LaparoGuard; a surgical navigation platform that improves safety and augments a surgeon’s ability during minimally invasive procedures. We chatted with COO & Co-Founder, Mitch Wilson, about what makes the surgical navigation company stand out from their competition and why the next year is critical to VPI’s success. Here’s what he had to say:
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR COMPANY?
Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Langlois, noticed in his instruction of young surgeons the difficulty they had navigating laparoscopic surgical instruments through a limited field of view that’s typical with most minimally invasive procedures. Together with Lawrence Schembri, the two began devising virtual safety zones that could track tools and alert surgeons when instruments moved beyond the field of view – sparing the patient’s delicate tissue from inadvertent collisions and burns.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?
I have the privilege of working with exceptionally bright engineers. Every team member has their sphere of expertise that drives the development of LaparoGuard. I am proud of the work we do – the dedication of our team and our commitment to improving outcomes for surgeons and patients.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART?
Medical device startups are capital intensive with a longer product road map. Patience and absolute attention to detail are required! Current startup dogma embraces failure. But with a medical device, failure is absolutely not an option. Regulatory compliance, quality adherence and documentation are the pillars of a successful medical device’s development.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS?
Success is measured against our product road map, and by communicating with our ultimate end users – the surgeons we have a relationship with. It’s early days for VPI and LaparoGuard, with major milestones yet to come.
WHAT IS THE BEST RECOGNITION YOU HAVE RECEIVED?
Feedback from surgeons – they get the space, they understand the limitations that come from endoscopic cameras during minimally invasive surgery. When doctors learn about LaparoGuard, the feedback validates the need for improving outcomes. There is intense pressure on everybody in healthcare – administrators, insurance payers, and healthcare providers like nurses and doctors – all are tasked to rein in the cost of care. Plenty of medical technology is wonderful – but the cost obliterates its practicality. At VPI, our goal is to provide value-based navigation. That is, affordable technology that sufficiently improves outcomes in the operating room, yet also makes sense from a cost-benefit analysis.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE NEXT YEAR AND BEYOND?
The next 18 months are critical – we will be seeking ISO 13485 compliance, a necessary precursor to Health Canada approval. We’ve also identified our predicate devices for a 510(k) submission to the FDA to get regulatory clearance to market LaparoGuard in our selected U.S. regional markets. On the clinical side, we’ve had a very positive relationship with our healthcare partners, and we will be continuing to verify and validate LaparoGuard’s efficacy in preclinical procedures throughout the summer and fall. And we’re hiring!
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG PROFESSIONALS OR STUDENTS STUDYING TO PURSUE A CAREER IN YOUR FIELD?
Medical device development is exhilarating – and requires intense focus and dedication. It’s impossible to be a “jack-of-all-trades” person in medical devices. Figuring out core competencies and surrounding yourself with expertise in fields you are not strong at is an essential strategy. There’s no room for ego and no excuse for ignorance. Our team leans heavily on a wonderful advisory network, and we are grateful for resources like The Forge and Innovation Factory who have supported us in our endeavors.
WHAT DIFFERENTIATES YOU FROM YOUR COMPETITION?
There are plenty of surgical navigation companies out there – most focus on orthopedics (hips, knees, etc.). Computer-assisted surgery is well-established in these procedures as the musculoskeletal structures are mostly rigid. Bones don’t shift the way soft-tissue like the bowel does. At VPI, our product LaparoGuard focuses on soft-tissue procedures – general surgery and gynecological procedures with dynamic environments where organs move and deform throughout the surgery. Dynamic navigation systems are not trivial. With LaparoGuard, we are applying familiar technology to a new frontier of surgery. It’s challenging, but LaparoGuard is providing a solution that surgeons understand, and both providers and patients benefit from the end result.
WHY IS HAMILTON THE HOME FOR YOUR COMPANY?
VPI is part of the emerging Hamilton life sciences cluster – we have access to exceptional talent at McMaster University, Ontario’s second largest hospital network that’s open to working with startups, access to life science investors and advisors, and dynamo resources to ensure businesses like ours succeed. The Forge campus-linked accelerator and Innovation Factory have been instrumental to our growth.
HOW CAN WE CONNECT WITH YOU?
We are always interested in hearing from health care professionals wishing to learn more about reducing “never events” and risk mitigation in the operating room. I can be reached at [email protected], and our Twitter handle is @virtualposs.