Health & Tech is a regular feature highlighting life sciences and high-tech companies throughout the region.
Company name: Medical Acoustics
Address: 640 Ellicott St., Buffalo
Year founded: 2002
Founders: Frank Codella and Sandy Hawkins
Industry: Medical device
Description: Patients blow into the company’s product, the lung flute, as they would a musical instrument, and the device uses sound waves to break up mucus in the lungs. It’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and other lung diseases marked by secretions and congestion. It also is approved to obtain lung sputum samples for laboratory analysis.
Number of employees: Six
Financing: More than $5 million raised to date
Lowdown: Medical Acoustics has gone through its share of “near-death experiences” since its founding in 2002 based on Hawkins’ lung flute invention, according to co-founder and CEO Frank Codella. But Codella said the company is poised for a breakthrough thanks to its success entering a new market: China.
Codella said the company spent the first eight years of its existence building prototypes of the lung flute, securing patents and waiting for the conclusion of the clinical trials required by the FDA, which approved the device in 2010.
That clearance allowed the company to ramp up production and to begin building a distribution network.
Medical Acoustics contracts with Polymer Conversions in Orchard Park to make the lung flutes and with Seal and Design of Clarence to make the reeds used in the device.
The company’s six employees work out of the Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The lung flutes ship directly from Polymer Conversions to distributors across this country and in Canada, the European Union, Japan, India, the Philippines, South Korea and China, where they are marketed to patients through doctors’ offices and, in some cases, over the counter.
In the U.S., patients must get a prescription to use the device, which sells for $49.50, including a six-month supply of reeds. A replacement six-month supply of reeds costs $19.50. Most insurers cover the cost.
Codella conceded the company has grown at a slower rate than its founders expected.
“A wise person once told me the only three things you can count on in a startup is that it’s going to take longer than you think, cost more than you expect and it’s harder than it looks,” he said.
But Codella said he’s optimistic about the company’s growth trajectory for 2016 for two reasons.
First, he thinks nongovernmental organizations, nonprofits and doctors will want to use the lung flute in obtaining deep-lung sputum samples, for diagnosis of tuberculosis and early detection of lung cancer, for example.
More importantly, he said, China in just the last three months has become the company’s biggest market for the lung flute, though Medical Acoustics does not release sales figures.
Consumers are using the device prophylactically, as a “toothbrush” for their lungs, a development driven by the high rate of smoking and air pollution there and by the population’s inclination toward natural remedies for health problems, Codella said.