The Omrix founder can’t resist Israel’s medical technologies as shown by sleep apnea prevention company Nyxoah.
CEO Adi Mashiach (front) and Robert Taub (in the back) / Tamar Matzrafi
/ By Gali Weinreb /
About two years ago, at the height of the State of Israel’s trial against Omrix and its founder Robert Taub, he said that he would not establish any more companies in Israel. He founded Nyxoah, his new baby, in Belgium and even moved the company’s CEO Dr. Adi Mashiach there. Later Taub registered an Israeli subsidiary of Nyxoah in Tel Aviv.
The trial is expected to go to mediation and now Taub reveals that while the company is registered in Belgium, half of its employees are in Israel. “The biotech and medtech sector in Israel is still very attractive. As in the past, I very much admire the entrepreneurship of Israeli companies and Israeli scientists, ” he said.
Taub is known for founding biological glue company Omrix and selling it to Johnson & Johnson in 2008 for $483 million. Nyxoah, which has developed a miniature implant to prevent obstructive sleep apnea, is now the leading startup company in his portfolio. The company raised €12 million from Taub himself and from other private investors, including Uwe Wascher, a former top executive at GE and Jurgen Hambrecht, who until recently served as CEO of BASF. The company currently employs 22 people, with half of them located in Israel. It is expected to increase its manpower in Israel.
Mashiach said, “I met Robert Taub through my brother, Nissim Mashiach, who was CEO of Omrix. Robert had just sold Omrix. I came to him with the desire to establish a company in the field of medicine, and that’s it. We examined different markets. I said – not cardiology, because it’s saturated. Not pharmaceuticals – because after Omrix, Robert wasn’t thrilled about getting into another long and demanding process, and not software – because it’s difficult to market. In the medical field, people like something they can hold in their hand.”
That is how the market of obstructive sleep apnea, today a $2 billion market, was chosen. “We saw that one of the new systems for dealing with the disorder was nerve stimulation and we thought we could offer better nerve stimulation.The innovation is not on the clinical level, but technologically, how it’s done.” Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when one is sleeping and the tongue falls back and blocks the airway in the mouth. The result is partial suffocation and awakening some 15-30 times an hour – in patience with light to moderate conditions.
The result is fatigue, cognitive disorders and depression that stems from lack of sleep. In addition, since the body responds to suffocation when it happens, with time blood pressure rises, as does the tendency for heart disease.
Weight gain is both a common cause of the disorder and a result of it – the lack of sleep and constant stress cause weight gain. Weight gain causes further blockage of the throat.
“The survival rate of an obstructive sleep apnea patient in moderate or worse condition over the age of 60 stands at 26% for five years if untreated, ” says Mashiach.
The common existing solution to the problem is a mask that pumps air into the patient’s nose, a kind of mini medical ventilator. But the masks aren’t comfortable, some 10% of patients refuse to use them and another 50% stop using them after some time.
In recent years some of the world’s leading companies have been developing machines similar to pacemakers that are implanted and stimulate the nerve that controls the tongue muscle. The stimulation lifts the tongue of the sleeping patient without waking them.
Miniature implant in chin
Nyxoah’s product is an improvement of these products and does not infringe on their patents – the company says. It is a miniature device that is implanted inside the chin. It doesn’t have a battery or any source of energy. It gets its energy from an external patch that is stuck to the chin only at night. Mashiach said, “We all slept with the patch and it is very comfortable.” On the other hand, in the devices of the other companies, the “pacemakers” that are currently being developed, the implant is rather large, like a mini pacemaker as mentioned, and it contains the source of energy – meaning it must be replaced once every few years.
Another difference between the implant and the pacemakers is that the pacemaker’s wire must be wrapped around the nerve in a complicated surgery. Nyxoah’s implant doesn’t even touch the nerve, but transmits a focused electric field in its direction. Therefore, the minimally invasive procedure is very short – 15-20 minutes and in the future can be carried out using local anesthesia. The product can remain in the body for over 10 years without being replaced.
Other solutions the company will have to compete with are smaller versions of the mask, or in the most severe cases – drastic invasive surgeries such as corrective jaw surgery, attaching the tongue to the palate, tying the tongue to the palate with a wire (this surgery alone rakes in $500 million) and more.
The company hopes to be in the market in about a year or two, after significant trials – that go beyond what the regulators demand. The company estimates it will take another €10 million until it reaches the market.
Taub said, “We want to brand the product, because unlike Omrix, this is a medical product that is sort of a consumer product.” He explains the name Nyxoah: “Nyx is night in Belgian and Oah is owl in Hebrew. Night owl is a person who doesn’t sleep. Adi is like that as well – he’s up all night.” The company’s logo consists of an owl and a moon. It was designed by Taub’s daughter and the company’s website to soon be launched will be built by his son. “We are all artistic in the family.”
In addition to obstructive sleep apnea, the product also solves its side effect – snoring. Mashiach, “Snoring isn’t a medical problem, but it ruins married life and this device can also be marketed via the patients’ partners. People tell me, ‘Finally, my wife is willing to sleep in the same room as me’ or, ‘Finally, I can kiss my wife goodnight because I don’t have the elephant trunk mask on my face’, ” says Mashiach.
In the future the company could also develop its product to other types of nerve stimulation. “Our estimate is that in the future nerve stimulation will replace medication, ” says Taub. “We are not the only ones who think so. Top pharmaceuticals executives have recently coined the term: neuraceuticals to describe this key field.”
Taub plans to increase involvement in NeuroDerm
Robert Taub invests in a number of Israeli biomed companies. While Nyxoah is his “new baby” and the company that he invests most of his time and money in, he is also very involved in NeuroDerm. “I think I will increase my involvement in it soon, ” he says.
He is likely referring to increasing professional involvement and perhaps also expanding his investment in the company. NeuroDerm has developed a system for delivering drugs via the skin and now it specializes mainly in the field of Parkinson’s disease. The company recently received good results in a preliminary efficacy study that it carried out with the product, which is a combination of two Parkinson’s drugs that are administered through the skin.
“I am committed to NeuroDerm. In another Israeli company, LifeBond, which develops products in the field of blood clotting, I am mainly an investor. The fourth Israeli company I’ve invested in, Glycominds isn’t in the best shape.”
Published by www.globes-online.com