A solid relationship with lead investor Nipro Corporation was key to helping Venari Medical get its recent €4.5 million funding round over the line, according to Stephen Cox, its co-founder.

The Galway start-up is developing a minimally invasive treatment of chronic venous disease (CVD).

In Nipro Corporation, a Japanese manufacturer of medical devices, Cox believes the start-up has found a powerful ally in the Asian market.

“Business in that part of the world is really built on solid relationships. We were able to rely on the relationship we had built up with Nipro when the pandemic hit and a lot of other investors were running scared,” Cox, who is chief executive at Venari, said.

Venari first came into contact with Nipro through its involvement in MedTech Innovator, a global accelerator programme for medical device, digital health and diagnostic start-ups.

“It provided a platform for an early-stage company from the west of Ireland to compete with life sciences start-ups coming out of Silicon Valley and it put us in touch with Nipro, which is a global public company with about 33,000 employees,” Cox said.

Getting the Nipro funding over the line was a lengthy process, however.

“Up until closing the round, we’d been in contact with them for about 18 months. We visited their R&D facility in Kyoto and we had a weekly call with Japan every Wednesday,” Cox said.

“We really got to know them. We heard rumours of term sheets being ripped up for other start-ups because of Covid, but our lead held strong and we came out the other side.”

Cox, who was formerly head of engineering at Boxever, set up Venari in July 2018 with co-founders Nigel Phelan and Sean Cummins.

They met while taking part in NUI Galway’s BioInnovate programme for medical device innovation, and are developing a device called BioVena.

According to Cox, BioVena is the world’s first non-thermal treatment for the varicose veins and venous ulcers caused by CVD.

“What we’ve figured out is that, if you scar the inside of a vein, it heals like a cut on your hand,” he said.

“BioVena disrupts at a cellular level the inner lining of a vein, using a catheter. The key is that it’s purely mechanical. It’s faster, less invasive and less painful than existing treatments.”

Venari will use the money from its €4.5 million funding rounds to begin clinical trials in mid-2021 and to recruit for technical, quality and regulatory roles.

The start-up plans to target high-volume clinics in the US and Europe initially, treating CVD patients with leg ulcers.

“There are about three million sufferers of venous leg ulcers in the US and Europe and treatment costs about $10,000 per year per patient,” Cox said.

“These patients pose a higher technical challenge, because the market-leading thermal or burning treatment for CVD is unsuitable for patients who have open leg sores. That’s the market we plan to really focus on,” Cox said.

In addition to Nipro, other participants in Venari’s seed round included the Western Development Commission and Enterprise Ireland.

Venari is a client company of Enterprise Ireland and was one of ten start-ups selected to take part in the state agency’s Big Ideas showcase last year. The event gives research-led start-ups like Venari the opportunity to pitch their ideas to investors and researchers. Twelve start-ups will take part in Big Ideas 2020 online on November 25.