ALung lands $14 million in venture capital from Eagle Ventures Inc.

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A South Side startup developing a respiratory assist device to help hospital patients stay off a mechanical ventilator has received a $14 million infusion from the Shadyside venture capital firm Eagle Ventures Inc.

That amount nearly doubles what ALung Technologies Inc. had raised from individual investors over the past 10 years. Chairman and CEO Pete DeComo says it will enable the company to complete human trials in Germany and initiate the regulatory process in the United States.

Already, the Eagle Ventures money has made it possible for ALung to hire a manager for the clinical trials, Alethea Wieland. The company also is planning to move later this year from its current 6,000-square-foot space a 333 East Carson St. to a 15,000-square-foot building formerly used by a printing shop on South 25th and Jane streets, also on the South Side, with an option for additional space on the second floor.

ALung has 21 full-time employees, about 75 percent of them engineers and technicians.

Mel Pirchesky, president of Eagle Ventures, lined up the private investors and put up some of his own money. He said the investors, two-thirds of them from the Pittsburgh area, comprise 50 shareholders and 90 individuals. The key selling points, he said, were "the quality of the team and the company's technology."

The device, called Hemolung, helps patients in respiratory distress by aiding damaged lungs, extracting carbon dioxide and helping to supply oxygen. Currently, those patients are put on mechanical ventilators with tubes down their throats while their lungs heal, a highly uncomfortable process that requires sedation. Over time, if a patient remains too sick to breathe on his or her own, the ventilator actually can damage the lungs.

With Hemolung, there is no tube down the throat. It uses a single catheter inserted in a major blood vessel to oxygenate the blood, allowing a patient to remain alert and able to eat and talk, all of which helps healing.

The first human trials of Hemolung are under way in India and Germany, with six patients put on the device since February. While restricted from saying too much about the ongoing trials, Mr. DeComo said that in each case, the Hemolung has operated as expected, without significant mechanical problems.

Mr. DeComo said ALung hoped to complete the German trial and get Europe-wide approval to market Hemolung by the end of the first quarter of 2011. If all goes well, it plans to begin making Hemolung commercially available in Europe and start the U.S. regulatory approval process in the second half of 2011.

Approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require larger trials, perhaps involving 200 to 300 patients, Mr. DeComo said, pushing domestic commercial availability of Hemolung to late 2013.


Steve Twedt: stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963.


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