CSA Medical builds on idea

Liquid nitrogen process could treat lung tumors

June 19, 2008|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Sun reporter

It was November 2006, and Tim Askew had his hands full just dealing with the idea that his new company's technology could treat esophageal cancer. He hadn't even launched his first product, he had few employees, and revenue was still months away.

But then he got a call from Dr. William Krimsky, and his world got a lot more complicated

"He single-handedly changed the course of the company," said Askew, who is chief executive of CSA Medical Inc., which is housed on the third floor of what used to be Baltimore's Eastern High School.

Krimsky, an interventional pulmonologist at Franklin Square Hospital Center, suggested CSA consider using its technology to treat the chest and lungs, something that was previously thought impossible. He and Askew did some calculations and animal tests, then launched a small-scale human clinical trial that showed the CSA system, which sprays liquid nitrogen on unwanted tissue inside the body, can safely kill tumor tissue in the lungs.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Business section stated incorrectly that CSA Medical Inc. needs further Food and Drug Administration approval to use its medical device to destroy unwanted tissue in areas other than the esophagus.

Now, based on that data, Askew expects to close an $8 million financing round this month and officially kick off a second business called Reset Medical, which will focus on the airway, lungs and chest - a treatment market that's 25 times the size of the esophagus market. Six new clinical trials are already under way investigating the technology as a treatment for ailments including emphysema and asthma. And Askew sees opportunities for other spinoff companies in the ear, nose and throat specialty as well as obstetrics and gynecology.

"I used to make all these limiting assumptions in my head," Askew said. "Now I make no more limiting assumptions."

Through privately held CSA, which today has two dozen employees and expects sales of $2.5 million this year, the esophageal version of the device has already won the Greater Baltimore Committee's 2008 "best new [biosciences] product" award. The company's venture capital investor calls it a "breakthrough technology."

Research with the device has been funded twice by an industrial partnership through the University of Maryland. The program's director, Martha Connolly, said she can't think of a more promising project.

The device, which is manufactured in North Carolina, is a $39,000, four-foot-something tall, 100-pound, beige box with an $850 tube sticking out of it. It simply does on the inside of the body what dermatologists do on the outside: use liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy malignant and benign tissue through a procedure called cryotherapy. A German company does something similar, with a slightly different delivery method. But for the most part, CSA's other competitors, which make up a handful of companies, use a system that burns tissue.

Still, the path to market for using CSA's technology in the esophagus was a long, fateful one.

The story began after Askew graduated from college and abandoned plans for medical school at the urging of disillusioned physician friends. After earning an MBA from Boston University in 1989, he caught a case of "entrepreneurial affliction" and built and sold companies in various fields for a living.

Askew sold his last company, a chemical manufacturer, in 2002, and toyed with the idea of finally going to medical school, having never quite shaken the notion. But his wife and reason got the better of him: He was 38 and had three small children. He decided to build a medical business instead. Askew immediately nixed pharmaceuticals, saying they take too much time and money to commercialize. He instead zeroed in on medical devices.

In 2003, his search to buy technology led him to the work of a doctor at the National Naval Medical Center who had spent 10 years developing the initial internal cryotherapy system. After checking it out, Askew was intrigued and decided to personally finance the device's first human trials, which cost about $200,000. After one of the patients called Askew, identifying himself only as Patient 11, to talk about how much improved his life was after treatment, Askew was hooked.

He bought in, took on the CEO role and started raising funds, naming the company CSA - for CryoSpray Ablation - Medical. In 2004, his wife gave him until the end of the year to get financing or get out. He received clearance to use the technology from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May that year and closed his first round of external funding, raising $3.5 million, on Dec. 18.

"We think it's a company that's doing a lot of good in a market that really needs them," said Robb Tyler Doub, a general partner at College Park's New Markets Venture Partners, which funded CSA.

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