The Dual-Doctoral-Degree Holder Starts a Business in Suzhou: magAssist Develops High-barrier Cardiopulmonary Support Devices

Source:, Author: Na ZHAO Editor: Kun LIN

“Our products are developed to keep patients alive. How many patients can be saved is the most important index to measure our corporate value,” said Dr. Po-Lin HSU, founder and CEO of magAssist. In January this year, magAssist, an innovative medical device enterprise headquartered in Suzhou High-tech Development Zone, announced its completion of Series B financing of over RMB 100 million. This financing was led by Northern Light Venture Capital, followed by SND Ventures and supported by existing shareholders like Guoqian Venture Capital, Anji Yunshuo and TigerYeah Capital. Dr. HSU holds two doctoral degrees, one granted by the University of Cambridge and the other by the RWTH Aachen University. Engaged in the design and development of artificial heart, she was elected the first Chinese board member of the International Society for Mechanical Circulatory Support (ISMCS) in 2019 since its establishment about 30 years ago. In a recent interview with her, she kept saying that they will build an extracorporeal life support platform for emergency and critical situations, and all efforts are to save more people’s lives. The letters “FIM” on the greeting wall of magAssist’s headquarters show the team’s expectation to the first patient of the first clinical trial. It’s learned that the extracorporeal artificial heart products will be put into clinical trials in the first quarter this year. According to the plan, Professor Nianguo DONG with the Surgery Department of Wuhan Union Hospital of China will serve as the PI for the clinical trials of the extracorporeal artificial hearts of magAssist. Professor DONG’s team has maintained the first place in the number of heart transplantation cases in China in recent years. 

The Post-80s Scientist Started a Business

Dr. HSU is both a post-80s entrepreneur, and a distinguished professor and doctoral supervisor of Soochow University. Her research interests in Soochow University are minimally invasive artificial heart, physiological system simulation and artificial heart system simulation. Her doctor friends often ask her how long China’s way to widespread use of domestically made artificial hearts is. “If I had other choices, I wouldn’t have started the business.” Having witnessed how hard it was for her father to start a business, Dr. HSU is well aware that entrepreneurship will never be a smooth sail. However, “you have to start a business if you want to make them.” In May 2017, magAssist was incorporated in Jiangsu MedPark as the first artificial heart R&D enterprise in the park. When asked why Jiangsu MedPark was chosen as the site, Dr. HSU responded, “It takes a long period for high-end medical devices to develop products. Therefore, it also takes a long period for local governments to foster enterprises and create tax revenues. The determination and boldness of leaders of the High-tech Development Zone to Suzhou City has given us great confidence.” Within a short period of less than four years, magAssist will soon put its extracorporeal artificial heart products into clinical trials, and has started pre-clinical research and development on interventional artificial heart and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). MagAssist is expected to put at least one high-barrier Class III product into clinical trials from 2013. Professor Ulrich Steinseifer, a leader in cardiovascular engineering of the RWTH Aachen University, and Professor Tim Kaufmann, founder of computational fluid dynamics company Enmodes, have joined magAssist at its inception as co-founders. Thus far, magAssist has developed a cross-time zone, multilingual, multidisciplinary core team. “We emphasize better collaboration in our global team to work conscientiously together toward a great goal,” Dr. HSU revealed. The team has developed China’s first extracorporeal artificial heart and hopes to produce China’s first interventional artificial heart in its endeavor to grow into China’s first domestically made ECMO supplier. 

“Saving lives” is the most important index

Located in the Science and Technology Town of Suzhou High-tech Development Zone, Jiangsu MedPark is adjacent to Ring Expressway in the east, connected to Yuping Mountain in the south, and adjoining the expansive Lake Tai in the west and Taihu Avenue in the north. As of September 2020, Jiangsu MedPark had gathered about 200 innovative and industrially-leading medical device manufacturers at home and abroad, including listed companies like Yuwell Medicine, BIOSINO, MedicalSystem and LEPU Medical. In this industry park filled with industrial giants, magAssist has grown from a small office to an enterprise with offices and R&D laboratories of about 700 m2 (to be expanded to 5,000 m2) and 1700 m2 maglev extracorporeal artificial heart production line, first of its kind in China, which can accommodate three assembly and production lines of high value consumables as well as active equipment. It’s learned that magAssist mainly develops extracorporeal life support devices for clinical scenarios like acute cardiogenic shock, circulatory protection during cardiac PCI, and severe acute organ failure. In response to complex demand matrix for acute cardiopulmonary failure and domestic clinical pain points, magAssist has made a comprehensive layout of new-generation ECMO and interventional artificial heart product lines based on maglev extracorporeal artificial heart technology over the past four years. “We focused on simplex products (R&D) in the first three years of establishment, but now have developed into a platform product company,” Dr. HSU revealed. Starting from 2021, there will be products entering clinical trials every year, and the product cycle from R&D to commercialization is expected to be shorten to five years. From the perspective of capital attention, innovative medical devices were hotly invested in 2020, and cardiovascular intervention, medical robotics and imaging evidently drew extensive investment. “The growth of the Chinese medical device market in the future will lie in the innovation and technology driven medical devices,” Feng DEND, founding managing partner of Northern Light Venture Capital, pointed out. Heart failure is a rare broad track with a potential market size of over RMB 10 billion in the cardiovascular sector. With the aging of population and the course extension of basic cardiovascular diseases, the inflection point of Chinese heart failure device treatment market is approaching.

ECLS Platform

With the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, the capital market has dramatically enhanced its interest in medical care. Since the third quarter in particular, large amounts of funds have flooded to innovative medical devices. What role does the extracorporeal artificial heart developed by magAssist play in disease treatment? As revealed in China Cardiovascular Health and Disease Report 2019, China’s prevalence rate of cardiovascular diseases is on the rise. The estimated number of people suffering from cardiovascular diseases is 330 million, including about 13.7 million patients with heart failure and about 600,000 patients with end-stage heart failure. For patients with end-stage heart failure, a heart transplant remains the optimal treatment. However, there is a huge gap between the increasing number of patients and the very limited number of heart donors. In recent years, implantable artificial hearts have become a new hope to save the lives of patients with end-stage heart failure. However, a large number of patients with progressive heart failure, coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction may suffer from acute heart failure or acute cardiogenic shock during the course of the disease, who need short-term extracorporeal circulation to support them through the dangerous period. After recovery, the extracorporeal artificial heart can be removed and patients can be discharged. It’s learned that the first product to be put into clinical trials from magAssist’s three existing product lines will be an extracorporeal artificial heart which is the first of its kind developed by a Chinese start-up. “This is a funnel-shaped patient population. The indications and scenarios for the use of implantable and extracorporeal artificial hearts are complementary, with the former focusing on end-stage heart failure and the latter on acute heart failure in patients with various types of primary cardiovascular disease, progressive heart failure, etc.,” Yang CHEN, investment manager of Northern Light Venture Capital, said when talking about the reasons for investment in extracorporeal artificial hearts. During an acute heart failure, patients are not suitable or in a position to undergo an immediate surgery. Under such circumstances, an extracorporeal artificial heart may be a more suitable solution to provide short-term circulatory support for patients. Yang CHEN is an investor in innovative medical devices of Northern Light Venture Capital. Having worked in Fuwai Cardiovascular Hospital and Beijing Anzhen Hospital clinically for many years, she now serves as a promoter for magAssist’s new series of financing led by Northern Light Venture Capital. The investors choose magAssist not only for artificial hearts, but also for ECMO products under development and the possibility to establish an ECLS platform. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, ECMO technology has become known to a wider public for its importance in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Commonly known as “artificial lung”, ECMO can provide external respiration and blood circulation for patients with severe cardiopulmonary failure, and thus gain more treatment time to fight death. As far as the global capital market is concerned, high-end medical innovation giant Abiomed is an overseas medical device supplier providing circulation support with a current market cap of USD 14.7 billion. “We aspire to become not only the Abiomed of China, but also the magAssist of China.” For magAssist team and medical investors, the Chinese innovative medical device manufacturers will stand shoulder to shoulder with globally leading enterprises.  

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