Morrisville medical device startup raises $6.3 million

A Morrisville startup that is developing a first-of-its-kind technology designed to help oncologists fight cancerous tumors has raised $5.2 million in its first round of funding.

The funding announced this week by medical device company Lucerno Dynamics also includes $1.1 million in convertible debt the company raised earlier this year, boosting its total haul to $6.3 million.

Lucerno plans to use the money to gear up for commercialization of its product, CEO Ron Lattanze wrote in an email. That will include adding to its “lean team” of five full-time and one part-time employees – and beginning to pay its staff a “minimal” salary.

“All but one of us have worked without pay for up to four years,” Lattanze said, adding that the employee who was compensated “received hardly any pay.”

John Cambier, managing partner of Durham venture capital firm IDEA Fund Partners, which is among the firms that invested in Lucerno, said he was attracted by how far the company has taken its technology on “very little money” up to now.

Cambier also said he was impressed by the management team led by CEO Ron Lattanze, a former executive at giant medical device company Guidant.

Founded in 2011, Lucerno has developed patented sensors that detect radiation that would be used in conjunction with PET scans to ensure the prescribed quantity of the radioactive isotope injected for those tests are reaching the tumor. That’s essential for the chemotherapy to be effective, but it doesn’t happen if the injection is improperly administered or if there is some sort of obstruction in the patient’s veins.

Currently, “there is no way that physicians can ensure that the injection has been delivered into the patient’s circulation exactly as intended,” Lattanze said.

Because the sensors are classified as a Class 1 device, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require full-blown clinical trials before approving them. Consequently, the company is hoping it will be able to launch its first product commercially in early 2017.

Longer-term, Lucerno sees a wealth of other potential applications for its sensors, including using them to help oncologists determine if a tumor is responding to chemotherapy.

The company’s technology was co-invented by UNC Rex Healthcare radiation oncologist Dr. Charles Scarantino, who previously co-founded Sicel Technologies.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii