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Helping the blind to see


Becoming the market leader in the neurostimulation sector, by initially helping blind patients regain their sight, is the vision of Bonn-based start-up company IIP-Technologies.

IIP has made considerable progress in developing the first ‘intelligent’ retina implant in the world. Thanks to this implant it is possible to restore limited eyesight to people who have lost their sight following retina degeneration.

In Germany alone, about 60,000 people suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary visual defect that can lead to complete blindness. Currently, there are no therapies available to treat the condition.

The patent-protected implant developed by IIP combines medicinal and information technology with micro-systems technology. A blind patient has a unique microchip implanted in their eye, wears special glasses with an integrated camera and carries a microcomputer on a belt around their waist. Visual information received by the glasses is converted into electrical pulses by the microcomputer and the pulses then used to stimulate the patient’s optic nerve. The implant helps restore limited eyesight to people affected with specific hereditary blindness.

IIP obtained encouraging results for their retina implant during an initial clinical research study conducted at four leading university hospitals in Germany and Austria in 2003 and 2004. Of the 20 patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa who participated in the study, 19 reported that their visual perception had been triggered thanks to electrical stimulations from IIP’s retina implant.

Following the promising results of their first clinical trial, IIP has launched a new trial this year, in cooperation with University Hospital Hamburg, involving patients with macular degeneration. Additionally, IIP has initiated procedures to obtain approval for their technology from the US Food and Drug Administration.

IIP was co-founded in 2002 by Steffen Suchert, the firm’s chairman, and now employs around 30 people. In March last year, IIP successfully concluded a 4.5m euro initial financing round involving PolyTechnos Venture–Partners Funds and Valtronic, a Swiss electronics manufacturer.

“IIP plan to raise up to 10m euro in venture capital funding in the fourth quarter of 2005,” announce IIP management. “These funds will be mainly used to finance the clinical trials necessary for the CE Mark and FDA approval processes, to produce the devices necessary for those clinical trials, to continue with research and development and for marketing in connection with the product launch.”

Looking to the next five years, IIP management announce: “Our intention is to have improved versions of the first product (retina implant) on the market and a platform for new applications in the area of neurostimulation.”

Tara Morris | alfa
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