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Familiar Start, With Makani, Microdermics

Koa Accel didn’t have to look too far for one of its first investments. This year, it invested $550,000 in Makani Science, an Irvine-based developer of a wireless, wearable sensor designed to continuously monitor a patient’s breathing rate and pulmonary volumes during medical or dental procedures.

Its founder and Chief Executive is Francis Duhay, a founding member of Koa.

Physicians currently conduct a spirometry test—in which a tube is inserted into the lungs through the mouth, and connected to a piston that indicates the air volume in a patient’s lungs—measuring respiratory rate and volume. But the test is invasive, akin to a biopsy, and can only be performed in a hospital setting. 

Makani’s product was in part developed in response to the lack of anesthetist oversight in situations in which “patients are placed under conscious sedation for complicated dental procedures or minor hospital operations such as removing lumps and bumps,” Duhay said.

The Makani system demonstrated excellent correlation with gold standard medical spirometry for respiratory rate and volume, according to an early stage clinical study.

The Koa cash infusion will help the company test its product in clinical settings—a dentist, gastroenterologist and private plastic surgeon’s office, in addition to a cardiology lab within a hospital setting. The studies will assess the functionality of the device and how it fits into physician’s overall workflow.

Down the road, Makani will look into modifying its device for everyday use, so that active individuals with asthma for instance, can monitor their breathing with little to no hassle.  

Koa’s other initial investment is for Microdermics, an upstart Canadian firm that has developed a microsensor the size of a mosquito’s proboscis, designed for use in monitoring a variety of the body’s chemicals.

Though Duhay declined to comment on Koa’s monetary investment in Microdermics, he emphasized that every portfolio company will receive upward of $500,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.

The Vancouver-based company previously closed a $1 million seed round in 2017 led by Newport Beach’s K5 Ventures.

Following the latest investment in Koa, the startup’s focus has shifted from a delivery system for vaccines and biologics to a chemical monitoring system to help patients with diabetes, among others. 

“We had this ‘ah-ha moment’ that hearkens back to a lesson that I learned many years ago,” Duhay said. “There are two ways to make money from a gold mine: you own it and charge rent, or you sell picks and shovels. We saw the future of Microdermics as a picks and shovels company.”

Koa plans to market the product as a subcomponent, sold to medical device makers such as DexCom Inc. (Nasdaq: DXCM) and Medtronic PLC.

— Jessie Yount

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