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In Harmony: Academic-Industry Collaboration Behind the Growth of Medical Acoustics LLC

Sales of the Lung Flute expected to carry the company into the black in 2011

Release Date: January 18, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The success of Buffalo-based Medical Acoustics, a medical device company expecting to turn a profit for the first time in 2011, exemplifies how partnerships with universities like the University at Buffalo can help businesses bring new products to the market.

Medical Acoustics distributes the Lung Flute, a hand-held device that employs sound waves to break up mucus in the lungs of patients suffering from respiratory illnesses including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Patients use the apparatus -- a hollow tube with a reed inside -- by simply exhaling into it.

The Lung Flute has received national attention, appearing in Popular Science magazine's list of the top 100 innovations of 2009. The product also landed on national TV in 2010, starring in a segment of "The Doctors" titled "How to Get it Out."

Medical Acoustics, which has partnered with UB for years on research and development, began shipping orders to the U.S. hospital market in November. The firm has also contracted with distributors to sell the Lung Flute in the European Union and Asia.

The company, located in the Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, has 12 employees, nine of whom are full-time. Manufacturing is also local, with Polymer Conversions in Orchard Park producing the Lung Flute.

Over the years, UB's support has been instrumental in helping Medical Acoustics commercialize the Lung Flute, said company CEO Frank Codella. Since its founding in 2002, the firm has taken advantage of university resources ranging from financial support to help with clinical trials.

"UB has made all the difference," Codella said. "Originally, because the inventor of the Lung Flute was in New York City, we did some work with institutions there. The resources and attention we've gotten from UB far exceed anything we received from the folks in New York."

Collaborations between Medical Acoustics and UB include the following:

-- In 2003, the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach helped Medical Acoustics draft the company's first business plan. Market research the office's professional staff conducted with the help of a recent UB graduate identified the Lung Flute's key market -- an underserved population of 12 million patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

-- Sanjay Sethi, professor of medicine, identified a secondary market for the Lung Flute, informing Codella and his associates the device could serve as a diagnostic tool, enabling doctors to secure sputum samples for testing. Sputum contains germs and biological markers that health practitioners can use to spot diseases including tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other detection procedures -- such as bronchoscopies, in which doctors thread a thin tube through a patient's airways -- are more invasive. Medical Acoustics began shipping the Lung Flute as a diagnostic instrument in 2007.

-- Sethi led three clinical trials that demonstrated the safety and efficacy of the Lung Flute. These studies played a critical role in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's decision to clear the Lung Flute for diagnostic and therapeutic use. Sethi, chief of UB's Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, is now conducting a six-month trial with 80 patients to examine the Lung Flute's performance over time. He said his work on Lung Flute has been rewarding because "it's good to see something come to fruition and become an option for treatment, reaching patients."

-- The UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology (UB CAT), funded by the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR), assisted Medical Acoustics with federal grant submissions in 2007 and provided the company with $50,000 in the 2009-10 fiscal year to ready the Lung Flute for its commercial launch in the hospital market. This fiscal year, the UB CAT supported the company with another $60,000 to fund Sethi's research.

Sethi said the university's partnership with Medical Acoustics demonstrates how valuable a research institution can be to industry. Both he and Codella take particular pride in the fact that their work is contributing to the growth of Western New York's innovation economy.

"It's something everyone's so conscious of -- the need to create employment opportunities here," Codella said. "When you can create a business and create good jobs, there's a real sense of accomplishment."

"Fueling university-industry partnerships leading to job growth for life sciences companies in New York State is the primary mission of the UB CAT program," said Marnie LaVigne, director of business development for UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and the UB CAT. "The collaboration among the UB CAT, Dr. Sethi and Medical Acoustics is a great example of leveraging university assets to bring a life sciences product to the market leading to new jobs for our region."

Codella will speak at the Center of Excellence on Jan. 27 as part of the center's Life Sciences Commercialization Lecture Series. For information on his presentation, titled "Buffalo's Growing Life Sciences Sector: Benefits to Staying Local," visit http://www.bioinformatics.buffalo.edu/events.php#Jan27.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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