Startup founder Shiv Shukla took home the grand prize last week at San Diego’s biggest pitch competition, bringing home a $50,000 check for striking a chord with the event’s judges. His company, Neuralace Medical, is tackling one of the most critical problems of our time: dependence on addictive painkillers.
Shukla, 31, presented his startup idea on stage last Wednesday to a crowd of over 500 people at the annual John G. Watson Quick Pitch competition. Like the other nine finalists, he was only given two minutes to make his case. Voice trembling and visibly shaken by the task at hand, he managed to deliver the most compelling pitch of the night thanks to the gravity of the problem he’s trying to solve.
Shukla’s company Neuralace makes a medical device that treats chronic pain caused by physical trauma — like a car accident or injury. The device stimulates damaged nerves with magnetic pulses in an effort to re-enable the nerves to manage pain. The device is meant to be placed in pain clinics, where patients can go in for treatments that decrease in regularity as time goes on.
A way to treat longterm pain without addictive and dangerous painkillers is striking to those familiar with the opioid epidemic in the U.S. About two-thirds of the 72,000 deaths last year from drug overdoses were caused by opioids. In fact, the same day Shukla was presenting his idea onstage, President Trump was signing a bipartisan package of measures to address the country’s debilitating opioid problem. The legislation is intended to cut down on the supply and access to opioids.
“Neuralace is working on a important area of medical need,” said Susie Harborth, an investor at BioInnovation Capital and judge at Quick Pitch. “We thought the data they showed where patients reduced pain and were off opioids was very compelling.”
Shukla said his exposure to the opioid problem began when he was a neurobiology undergraduate at UC Davis. He volunteered at a drug rehabilitation clinic, expecting to find there the stereotypical addicts portrayed in movies and television.
“Instead, what I found was really responsible adults who had gone through a surgical procedure and became hooked on prescribed opioids in a week or two,” Shukla said. “It blew me away. And physicians are frustrated, too, because they don’t have anything else to offer these patients who are in pain. That’s when I decided not to go on to medical school. I knew I wanted to study pain research.”
This isn’t Shukla’s first endeavor in entrepreneurship. In 2013, he launched Theraflux Medical, which also focused on pain management devices. But the company disbanded a few years later when the co-founders decided to go separate directions.
Neuralace’s technology — called Axon Therapy — has completed a clinical trial testing the device in 20 patients. On average, patients have experienced up to 80 percent reduction in pain after one month of Axon Therapy. This small patient pool was enough to convince the FDA that they didn’t need any further data, and green-lighted Neuralace to shoot for a 510(k) clearance, which would deem the product safe and effective. Shukla said he expects the clearance to come through in about a year.
Neuralace has closed on $1.1 million in a friends and family round and a seed round led by FusionX Ventures. Shukla noted the total closed was less than the previously announced $2 million, as the company missed a milestone that would have triggered a later tranche. With a new timeline, however, Neuralace is on track to raise $2 million in a Series A round including previous investors.
Shukla said he would use his Quick Pitch winnings to help fund an 80-person, multi-site clinical trial.
“We don’t need the trial for FDA clearance, but I think we’ll need it for adoption,” Shukla said.
The Axon Therapy device, which was developed in collaboration with UC San Diego and the region’s VA Hospital, is currently being used in a clinical trial at the VA and in a clinic in Encinitas. The device will soon be tested in a trial at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.Next Story