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UM Ventures-Backed Startup Breethe Acquired by Abiomed to Bring Better Solutions to Patients Suffering from Lung Failure

Monday, May 4, 2020

Last week, Abiomed acquired Baltimore-based startup, Breethe, for its innovative respiratory device. Breethe is a startup out of University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), founded by Bartley P. Griffith, MD, the Hales Distinguished Professor of Surgery and Director of the Cardiac and Lung Transplant Programs at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). Dr. Griffith and his partners, Carl Cohen and Marshal Linder, have created the first portable artificial lung system. Abiomed, out of Massachusetts, has acquired Breethe and its novel oxygenation device to expand its product portfolio in order to serve a new patient population in the respiratory space. 

Dr. Griffith and Jon Wu, PhD, designed the core of the innovative extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) system in their laboratory at the UMSOM. The vision is to help treat patients suffering from respiratory failure that may result from infections caused by viruses such as H1N1, SARS, or COVID-19, along with many other non-infectious causes of pulmonary failure. Hundreds of thousands of patients die each year from respiratory disease and lung failure, most live out their days in a hospital bed tethered to a bulky oxygen machine. Dr. Griffith has performed many transplant surgeries on these patients with lung failure and has dedicated much of his career to finding a better solution. The sophisticated engineering underlying Breethe’s novel integrated oxygen concentrator potentially eliminates the need for patients to rely on large, cumbersome oxygen tanks. His quest to develop a wearable, portable blood pump oxygenator that functions as an artificial lung system for patients took decades of National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) support, but it is now one step closer to being available to those who need it most.  

“Our artificial lung device is different because of its inherently biocompatible and efficient design,” says Dr. Griffith, who was named UMB’s Entrepreneur of the Year by the University in 2019. 

“Taking a new technology from bench to bedside requires significant capital and resources. The team at Breethe has developed an exceptional device founded on innovative intellectual property established by Dr. Griffith and his colleagues at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. They have wisely leveraged the funding resources available through UMB to bring this innovation to life,” noted UMB President Bruce Jarrell, MD. 

Breethe received support from the Baltimore Fund, a UM Ventures initiative that provides one-time conditional grants towards a company’s early-stage growth in Baltimore City. The funding was targeted towards establishing 20 permanent, full-time employees with the company. 

UM Ventures, Baltimore was also an early investor in the company and Breethe marks the fourth UM Ventures, Baltimore-backed startup to have a successful exit via acquisition. Phil Robilotto, DO, UMB’s Associate  Vice President for Technology Transfer, added, “Breethe’s recent acquisition is very exciting as it enables Abiomed, a leader in the medical device circulatory support space, to build upon the novel ECMO technology that Dr. Griffith and his team have created. Success stories such as this pave the way for other UMB startups to follow in their footsteps and access the significant support available through the  UM Ventures model.”