Telemetry Research may sell devices for wireless monitoring of heart and brain activity in animals, but its financial sights are set on assisting diseased human hearts.

About 25,000 people die in the United States each year who could have survived with a heart-assist device, says Telemetry Research co-founder and chief executive Simon Malpas. That's a big prospective market for the company.

"The pot at the end of the rainbow is to actually have what they term 'destination therapy', so it goes into you and it's there for the rest of your life," he said.

Technology to assist hearts is already being used to bridge human patients over until they can receive an organ transplant, Malpas says. Longer-term heart-assist devices, meanwhile, are being tested.

The Auckland-based company last week took the Innovation of the Year prize at the Telecom Incubator Awards for wireless power transfer technology Malpas hopes will solve some of the problems of long term heart assistance.

Originally spun out from the University of Auckland in 2004, Telemetry Research makes devices that wirelessly monitor physiological signals, such as from the heart and brain, in animal research.

Since last April, the company has sold about $100,000 of products to universities and research organisations, Malpas says. But the bigger bounty lies in the field of human medicine.

Generating enough power to continually drive an implanted motor or sensor is a major challenge, he says, "and you can't start to put a car battery in someone".

Some trials by other companies are using wires that travel through the skin and connect to an external power source. This solves the issue of power supply but can introduce a problem with infection travelling along the wire, he says.

Telemetry Research's solution is to wirelessly transfer the power needed through the skin without burning tissue - a problem that has dogged some previous attempts at such technology.

A small coil outside the body is used to generate a high-frequency magnetic field. A similar coil under the skin picks up the field and converts it into electricity to run the motor.

The outer coil is connected to a battery pack, which is small enough to be worn on a belt.

Malpas estimates the company's power-transfer technology could take three years to enter clinical trials and up to eight years to reach the market place. However, the payoff could be substantial.

"Currently there's none of this on the market," he says. "Some [heart-assist devices] are in clinical trials, but it's estimated that this market alone is about US$5 billion ($7.5 billion) to US$6 billion dollars in the US."

Apart from powering heart devices, the technology could also be used with sensors for monitoring specific organs or chronic diseases.

Malpas is aiming to create an industry standard that will become a catalyst for the development of implantable devices.

The health sector Telemetry Research is targeting is both complex and highly competitive, says IDC telecommunications analyst Chris Loh.

"If they have managed to secure their technology with strong IPR protection in North America and Europe they will be in an excellent position to benefit from their innovations and will certainly see a lot of international attention."

Telemetry Research, which has patents pending, is not looking to develop an entire device but rather partner its power technology with companies that build implantable devices, motors and sensors.

The company is already gaining valuable knowledge by using its wireless power transfer technology with its animal monitoring products, Malpas says.

"If you are putting things inside a human the environment is the same inside an animal," he says, "and the regulatory requirements to go through [with animals] are much less."

Telemetry Research is currently working through an investment round and is looking to raise about $350,000 for a two-pronged business plan.

The first part of that would be to increase the sales and marketing of its existing animal products, Malpas says.

"We've got to ramp that up quite quickly to get a sustainable business model."

The second part has Malpas embarking on a road trip around the globe to explore the market for human applications.

Being based in New Zealand means more flights to reach that marketplace, but Malpas doesn't view that as a hindrance.

"New Zealand is seen as a little bit exotic," he says. "[People say] 'we'll have a chat to them just to see they haven't got two heads'. It gets you in the door ... and then you've got to be able to sell what you do."


Who: Simon Malpas, chief executive.

What: Wireless medical devices.

Where: Auckland.

Why: "We want to have a strong business, we want to employ people but also I'm pretty keen that we actually might make a difference."