July 22, 2010      

In March, I reported on a number of Boston-area robotics companies that had been recently funded by venture capitalists groups. I am happy to report that the good news continues on the robotics investment front. On July 14th, VentureBeat noted that rehabilitation robotics device maker Tibion Bionic Technologies had received a third round of equity funding valued at $3 million. The company, which was founded in 2002 and located at NASA Research Park, Moffett Field, Calif., closed $3.5 million in Series A financing in September 2006, in a round led by Claremont Creek Ventures with participation from Saratoga Ventures, and a second round of $3.15 million in February 2010.

The company benefits from a strong management team, but the primary driver for continued funding, as well as a predictor for future success of the company, is the target market – stroke patients – specifically, rehabilitation of stroke patients. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the leading cause of long-term morbidity and disability in the U.S. Approximately 730,000 people suffer stroke each year in the U.S. and 1 million in the European Union (approximately one person every 45 seconds), with 85 percent recovering and requiring rehabilitation. More than 4 million people in the U.S. have survived a stroke and are living with the after effects. The direct cost for stroke rehabilitation in the U.S. is estimated at approximately $4.5 billion (16 percent of the total direct medical costs).

Robotic systems excel at carrying out directed, discrete, repetitive motions. Repetitive movement patterns are known to assist the brain and spinal cord in rerouting signals interrupted by injury or illness (taking advantage of neural plasticity), as well as strengthening muscles and improving coordination. Results for clinical studies indicate that robotics rehabilitation technology can act to restore lost or diminished muscle control in individuals with physical disabilities due to neurological trauma, including brain and spinal cord injury or stroke, or neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or cerebral palsy.

Tibion’s stroke rehabilitation technology is the Tibion Bionic Leg. Again, it is well documented that the guided, repetitive movements of limbs can increase muscular strength and improve coordination in patients with neurologic and orthopedic impairments. Also, it has been demonstrated that increasing the intensity and duration of training sessions amplifies the positive effects of rehabilitation therapy. This is what the Tibion Bionic Leg does. The device, which is similar in appearance to an advanced form of knee brace, provides support for the afflicted limb and allows for controlled, repetitive movement under the supervision of a therapist.

According to Tibion, the company’s “commercialization opportunity is grounded in the fact that it has developed what it and early clinical evaluators believe is arguably the first ambulatory device that can rehabilitate stroke patients with gait impairment.” It is clear that the investment community agrees.