$5M research grant puts Austin’s Apollo Endosurgery in hiring mode

Thanks to a $5 million cancer research grant, Austin medical device maker Apollo Endosurgery Inc. will be adding workers to its workforce.

Dennis McWilliams (photo), founder and CEO, says the grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas will enable the company to hire eight more employees in the short term. Apollo Endosurgery currently employs about 45 people. In the long term, the company plans to fill even more manufacturing and sales positions, he says.

The grant will support commercialization of Apollo Endosurgery’s SuMO System, made up of flexible surgery devices designed for gastrointestinal cancers. These cancers represent the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States, the company says.

The SuMO System uses a flexible endoscope to let specialized surgical tools reach suspected lesions in the gastrointestinal tract through natural openings in the body, avoiding the trauma and pain associated with standard invasive surgery. McWilliams says SuMO “is in the late prototyping stage.”

Apollo Endosurgery is developing the system in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

At last month’s 12th World Congress of Endoscopic Surgery, Apollo Endosurgery introduced two new surgical products: OverStitch, a device that mimics the way surgeons do suturing by hand, and FlexShears, which are single-use scissors for cutting soft tissue during surgery.

In the near future, Apollo Endosurgery aims to raise more venture capital but has not announced specifics. The company is backed by two VC firms: PTV Sciences LLC of Austin and HIG Ventures LLC of Atlanta and Miami. In 2007, the firms invested $11.5 million in Apollo Endosurgery.

Founded in 2006, Apollo Endosurgery was incubated by PTV Sciences and received initial support through a seed grant from the University of Texas Medical Branch.

At the time, McWilliams—a medical device and drug therapy entrepreneur—declared that Apollo Endosurgery was on “the cusp of the redefinition of surgery.”

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