NICO Brain Device, Partnership Targets Brain Cancer – Inside Indiana Business

NICO says its device “puts a tumor on life support” so the genetics are in a better state to be studied so doctors can determine the most efficient treatment for that particular tumor.

Neurosurgery is on the verge of a revolution; the head of Indianapolis-based NICO Corp. compare this to the transformation that gripped cardiology 20 years ago. The brain is the “last frontier” of human organs to have a minimally invasive surgical approach, and NICO says it’s leading the way on several fronts. Strengthened by a recent $12.5 million funding round, NICO is expanding its 14-year history of selling products by adding another market to its focus: precision medicine for brain tumors.

NICO says it is the first company in the world to develop and patent technology “to create an entirely new market for minimally invasive surgery in neurosurgery” to target abnormalities in the brain, namely stroke or brain tumors. NICO is led by the same team that founded Indiana-based startup Suros Surgical Systems, which was sold to Hologic, Inc. in 2006 for $238 million.

NICO’s story began with a device called the BrainPath, which is about the width of a Sharpie marker and has a pointed tip that can be slipped between the folds of the brain to preserve critical tissue rather than severing the brain. The company has also developed a handful of other devices that illuminate and remove tumors for minimally invasive surgery.

Beyond simply removing the tumor, NICO is now investing heavily in its latest mission to pave the way for brain tumor research and treatment. In cancer, precision medicine — also known as personalized medicine — analyzes the genetics of a person’s tumor to determine which drug or treatment is most effective for that person’s unique tumor. It’s said to lead to major advances in breast cancer, for example, but personalized medicine has yet to make waves in brain cancer.

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most aggressive brain tumor, with patients typically surviving for only 15 months. According to Jim Pearson, NICO’s chief executive officer, over the past 50 years, medicine has increased patient survival by only two to three months.

“The need for patients is enormous,” says Pearson. “[The medical field] has put 50 years of work – billions of dollars, tons of scientists and academics – into GBM, and we just haven’t moved the needle.”

NICO says much of this stagnation is due to surgeons being unable to obtain high-quality tissue samples of the tumor so the genetics can be analyzed to find the most effective treatment. According to Pearson, NICO’s Myriad tissue resection device and automated preservation system overcomes this major hurdle by giving researchers and pharmaceutical companies “a better place to start.”

“We put brain tumors on life support; just as the brain tumor comes out of the patient’s head, we keep the molecular information alive – the RNA and the proteomics – and we keep the cells very viable; It’s so important because these things die in just 10 minutes,” says Pearson. “We are the first company in the world to automate the biological preservation of the tissue immediately in the operating room – not with an external biobank, which finally receives the material hours or a day later. And that is crucial.”

Keeping the tissue alive means it is in the best condition to be examined. Pearson says that instead of having the neurosurgeon “fiddle around with a tissue sample on the back table,” the system automates the process, beginning with tiny “scissors and a suction cup” that sucks the tissue into an area where it’s cooled and continuously fed with a Conservation buffered becomes fluid and kept alive “without anyone doing anything”.

Recognizing that maintaining molecular integrity is the “building block” of personalized treatments, NICO has partnered with South Carolina-based precision oncology company Kiyatec. Kiyatec tests the tissue to determine which drug works best on the tumor.

“We’re providing better tissue so that Kiyatec can do a better, more accurate and meaningful test,” says Pearson. “They let the doctor know within seven days, ‘Drug A works, but drug B doesn’t.’ That is the basis of precision medicine.”

NICO is also less than six months away from study results using BrainPath to treat hemorrhagic stroke, the deadliest and most debilitating form of stroke. NICO anticipates positive results that, according to Pearson, would make it “the only company in the world to have ever had a positive study [hemorrhagic stroke].”

“We can’t change GBM and hemorrhagic stroke overnight, but what’s really exciting is that we’re on the brink of significant change. Neurosurgery, neuro-oncology and stroke – they are where cardiology was 20 years ago. Cardio has undergone a major revolution; we are at the very beginning of neurosurgery,” says Pearson. “The work we do is so important; in hemorrhagic stroke and tumors, it opens a world of possibilities that can have a tremendous impact on patients’ lives.”