Endiatx co-founder and CEO Torrey Smith with PillBot

Endiatx co-founder and CEO Torrey Smith with PillBot [Photo by Hardy Wilson for MDO]

After months of negotiations, Endiatx and Mayo Clinic have reached a deal that will accelerate the development of Endiatx’s PillBot robotic stomach camera.

The know-how licensing agreement gives Mayo Clinic a small but significant equity stake in the medical device startup, Endiatx co-founder and CEO Torrey Smith told Medical Design & Outsourcing.

“We were proud to give some equity to Mayo Clinic, and it means that we can co-develop this technology,” Smith said in an interview. “We’re not having them develop intellectual property, but what we are doing is having them coach us clinically. Basically, this is a chance to make sure that the tech that we are developing is exactly what gastroenterologists actually need.”

Vivek Kumbhari Mayo Clinic Endiatx

Dr. Vivek Kumbhari [Photo courtesy of Dr. Kumbhari]

Dr. Vivek Kumbhari, the chair of gastroenterology and hepatology at Mayo Clinic–Florida, joined the Endiatx board in 2021.

“The simplest way to describe [this deal] is it’s a way to make sure Mayo Clinic doesn’t sue us for being such close collaborators with their head gastroenterologist,” Smith said. “… The know-how agreement firmly locks Dr. Kumbhari in as someone that we can lean on. And the more important thing is that he just built [us a] scientific advisory board that is basically a who’s who of the world’s leading voices in gastroenterology.”

Endiatx has already cadaver-tested its PillBot with Kumbhari’s help at Mayo Clinic once before. The new deal offers the ability to piggyback on more Mayo Clinic cadaver studies to make the most use of bodies donated for research, Smith said.

“It’s always a tragedy when someone passes away,” he said. “The more science you can do with a donation of remains, the better. And so if Kumbhari is working on a cadaver and they’re done with it, and we can still learn important stuff, he’ll have us fly over and put the device in there as well.”

“We’re looking forward to doing that many more times … now we’ve got the ability. There’s no gray area,” Smith said.

The cadaver testing will include back-to-back testing of PillBot against endoscopes to not only deliver an entry-level, remote endoscope, but also to optimize the swimming camera robot’s controls and interface.

“What we’re making is not going to be the world’s best endoscope. It’s going be the world’s first virtual endoscope,” Smith said. “The whole point of PillBot is this effortless look inside the human stomach, so it’s important that we test that out in a cadaver model before we move to live humans.”

Smith expects the Mayo Clinic deal to be in place for a few years, which he hopes is enough time to get PillBot through a clinical trial, win regulatory approval from the FDA and hit the market.

“What we’re all shooting for is just let’s make this first thing real,” he said. “Let’s show people that you can drive little robots around in the body over Zoom calls and then in that new category, in that new world, let’s figure out what the next step is.”

What’s new with the Endiatx PillBot?

A close-up of the latest version of Endiatx PillBot

The latest version of Endiatx’s PillBot as of January 2023 [Photo courtesy of Endiatx]

Things are moving fast for PillBot at Hayward, California-based Endiatx, which Smith said is still a “lean and mean startup.” Over the winter break, Smith and his team worked on designing new flexible electronics for the device.

“What used to be like a rat’s nest of hand-soldered wires is turning into this three-dimensionally-routed, elegant, flexible circuit,” Smith said.

PillBot is smaller than ever. Smith said the latest version is shorter than any pillcam on the market and has a diameter equal to or lesser than any other pillcam.

“Getting it down to physical size was a big deal. The thing we were really proud of in the last few months was achieving that size, but we did so with very much an R&D-level device that had enormous amounts of precision hand-soldering involved. The flexible circuits that we designed over the winter break should be spun up in the next few days.”

The Endiatx team will assemble and test the latest device over the next couple of months. With the batteries and propulsion motors now on a flex circuit, PillBot assembly will eventually be as simple as popping the parts together and gluing the joint.

“We’re at a point now where the mechanical engineering and the electrical engineering has reached what I would call true fusion,” Smith said. “Our mechanicals and our electronics are flowing around each other in this extremely balanced and harmonious way. When you only have tiny spaces and volumes and weights and wall thicknesses to work with, there’s really no room for a hard boundary where on one side people do mechanical engineering, and on the other side is electrical engineering.”

Know-how licensing agreement advice

Asked for any advice he’d give to other device developers considering a similar know-how deal like Endiatx’s agreement with Mayo Clinic, Smith offered two tips.

“It really helps when you have enthusiasm from the physicians that you’re ultimately trying to reach,” Smith said.

“On the other side, I want to give a lot of credit to the months of hard work that the Mayo Clinic business team put into working with us on tuning the agreement until it made sense for both parties,” he continued. “Founders should make sure that they are giving respect to the process of working with the business team. Don’t think that it’s an overnight process, but just understand everyone wants to see awesome new technology and if you respect the process, you can definitely get things done.”

For more details on the deal, go to Medical Design & Outsourcing sister site MassDevice.