Local med-tech sector healthy and growing

  • Assembly worker Phalla Som works on an embolic protection system at Claret Medical, in Santa Rosa, on Wednesday, November 2, 2011. The embolic protection system is for use during transcatheter aortic valve implantations, and other procedures.

Claret Medical is just two years old, but the Santa Rosa med-tech startup already is finding success with a new device for preventing strokes in heart patients.

It's the latest example of innovation in Sonoma County's medical technology sector, which has weathered the recession better than other parts of the economy.

Medical technology has the potential to succeed telecommunications as a powerful job engine in Sonoma County, said Saeid Rahimi, dean emeritus at Sonoma State University's School of Science and Technology.

"I'd call it the second wave after telecom," he said. "I have great hope for it."

Today, Sonoma County has 10 medical technology companies with about 1,200 workers. The industry's growth is driven by an aging population and the need for cost-effective, less-risky medical procedures, said Steve Weiss, a Healdsburg biotech entrepreneur and investor.

"A lot of these technologies are replacing older, invasive hospital procedures," he said. "If you can move a patient from a high-cost hospital setting, you're improving safety and saving the system huge dollars."

Venture funding for medical technology startups has held steady, despite an overall slump in private equity deals, said Weiss, co-founder of North Bay Angels, a Sonoma County group that invests in early-stage tech companies.

Claret reached a milestone last week when it received regulatory approval to market its Montage filtration system in Europe.

The Montage device is used in Transcatheter Aortic Valve Intervention (TAVI), a next-generation technology for replacing damaged heart valves without risky open-heart surgery.

The TAVI technique lets a doctor deliver an artificial heart valve through a patient's femoral artery, located near the groin, using a tube-and-wire catheter system.

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