Time to heal – artificial lung that supports the natural respiratory organs

Novalung GmbH of Hechingen is the world's only provider of artificial lungs capable of being naturally supplied with blood from the human heart

The ability to replace vital organs either temporarily or even permanently with artificial ones is nowadays more than just a dream.

Hechingen-based Novalung GmbH is the world's first provider of a functional artificial lung.

Lung disease is the third most frequent cause of death in Europe and the USA."According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), nine million people die annually as a result of lung diseases," says Dr. Georg Matheis, Managing Director of Novalung GmbH."Unlike the other two big killers, heart disease and cancer, the medical technology industry has up till now invested far too little in the treatment of lung diseases."

Medical technology company Novalung, which was founded in 2002 and is based in Hechingen at the foot of the Swabian Alb, provides what Managing Director of BioRegio STERN Management GmbH Dr. Klaus Eichenberg sees as "pioneering work in the truest, very best sense". BioRegio STERN Management GmbH represents the interests of new business founders, entrepreneurs and researchers in the life sciences sphere when dealing with the political sector, the media and associations and advises them on grant applications and corporate financing.

The artificial lung from Novalung GmbH is the first of its kind to be naturally supplied with blood from the human heart.

Since the beginning of 2003, the ILA device (Interventional Lung Assist) has been utilised to provide intermittent lung support to more than 300 patients with acute lung failure following severe inflammation or injuries, for instance.

Dr. Matheis explains that it is not necessary to open up the patient's chest and not even a general anaesthetic is needed."The ILA device can be connected to the blood flow by two tubes without requiring an operation.

It removes carbon dioxide and increases oxygen levels in the blood.

This relieves the strain on the lung and gives it time to heal."

The artificial lung, which measures only 14 x 14 cm, is capable of complementing and in some cases replacing traditional mechanical ventilation, which can seriously affect the functioning of the human body."Mechanical ventilation is a double-edged sword," says Dr. Matheis. "Respiratory air is normally drawn into the human lung through the creation of a partial vacuum, whereas respirators actually force air into the respiratory tract.

In the case of lung failure, this unnatural pressure can damage the lung," he explains.

Affected patients require lung support for a period of approx. ten days on average, but applications lasting over a month, for example when waiting for a lung transplant, have already cropped up.

By reducing mechanical ventilation, the ILA device is a safe and cost-effective alternative.

Novalung is continuing to further develop its artificial lung.

The "Biolung", the world's first artificial lung capable of completely replacing the gas exchange function of the human lung, will be introduced to hospitals over the coming year.

Like all products from Novalung GmbH, the Biolung will be manufactured in Hechingen.

In its initial development stage, the Biolung will be fixed outside the body.

In the future, it will be available for patients in the final stage of certain lung diseases. Experts in hospitals are working intensively with Novalung toward this major goal because, as Dr. Matheis explains,"It is extremely important that the specifications and requirements for the development of the artificial lungs are worked out in collaboration with doctors and scientists."

In order to secure its growth, Novalung GmbH is receiving support from venture capitalists.

The company is being financed to the tune of several million Euros by L-EigenkapitalAgentur (L-EA) (part of L-Bank), SEED of Tübingen (the lead investor), the Novalung management team and a strategic partner from Switzerland.

This secures Novalung GmbH further development and growth opportunities in Hechingen's "Medical Valley"."Manufacturing the artificial lung is still relatively expensive at this point," says Dr. Matheis. "Personnel outlay is high and we're still quite a bit away from mass production."

Although Novalung GmbH has initially restricted itself to the German market, it has already shipped products to England, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and China.

In the medical world, there's a lot of dependency on the fact that the word about unique research results "gets around" very quickly."Word of mouth works extremely well up to a certain point," confirms STERN Managing Director Dr. Klaus Eichenberg,"But after a while, it's no longer good enough, because the idea is to treat a lot of patients, while investors also want to see economic success.

STERN is there to offer advice and practical assistance for the next steps."