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TandemLife of O'Hara on verge of developing vest for heart, lung patients

| Monday, March 21, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
John Marous, CEO of O’Hara medical device company TandemLife Co., formerly called CardiacAssist, seen with his company's latest product, a system of devices that provides temporary support to patients with lung failure.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
John Marous, CEO of O’Hara medical device company TandemLife Co., formerly called CardiacAssist, seen with his company's latest product, a system of devices that provides temporary support to patients with lung failure.
TandemLife Co., a medical device company in O'Hara formerly known as CardiacAssist, has created a system of devices called TandemLung that provides support to patients with lung failure and is wearable, allowing patients to be mobile.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
TandemLife Co., a medical device company in O'Hara formerly known as CardiacAssist, has created a system of devices called TandemLung that provides support to patients with lung failure and is wearable, allowing patients to be mobile.
Doug Lindsey, (left) manager of lung production, and Tom Will, a manufacturing engineer, work in a production clean room at TandemLife Co., an O'Hara medical company formerly known as CardiacAssist. The company's name change takes effect March 29, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Doug Lindsey, (left) manager of lung production, and Tom Will, a manufacturing engineer, work in a production clean room at TandemLife Co., an O'Hara medical company formerly known as CardiacAssist. The company's name change takes effect March 29, 2016.

John Marous believes his O'Hara company is on the verge of a major breakthrough in medical technology for seriously ill patients: a wearable array of devices that can temporarily support heart and lung function and allow movement.

The platform of devices could change the look of many hospital intensive care units, Marous said, replacing file cabinet-sized machines that aid heart and lung function while bedridden patients await organ transplants or other therapies.

His company's devices, fitted to a vest with only one or two tubes inserted into the neck or groin, could allow patients to get up and move around by eliminating the jumble of tubes and wires strung across their bodies and connecting them to life support.

“With the advent of these multiple platforms, we can go to a hospital and offer them everything they need” to treat people experiencing heart and/or lung failure, said Marous, CEO of TandemLife Co.

The 20-year-old company, formerly known as CardiacAssist Inc., will announce its name change and launch new products March 29 in a push to grow its market and sales.

“We can do a lot of things that we couldn't do before,” Marous said. “We're not the same one-product company that's 20 years old.”

As CardiacAssist, which was founded in 1996, the company was successful in developing and selling TandemHeart, a pump that provided temporary aid for patients with one type of heart failure. But over the past five years, Marous and his team have broadened their suite of devices to tackle other types of cardiac and respiratory problems.

The company earned six product clearances from the Food and Drug Administration since 2013, including last month's approval of an oxygenator that aids lung function by removing carbon dioxide from a patient's blood stream and adding oxygen, Marous said.

The system of heart pumps, oxygenator and specialized, minimally invasive tubes that carry the patient's blood will be marketed as TandemLife.

Dr. Robert Kormos, director of the Artificial Heart Program at UPMC, has used the company's heart devices and said he thinks it was a good move for TandemLife to enter the market for respiratory aid devices.

“Acute lung failure is becoming a very prominent problem in the U.S.,” he said.

Combining everything needed to support the lungs and heart into one wearable array of devices is “a smart market move” because no other company is offering a single kit like what TandemLife is planning to launch, Kormos said.

“One of the challenges when you get patients with lung failure is maintaining activity and nutrition so they don't get bed sores or become malnourished,” he said. “It definitely would provide patients with a much better quality of life.”

Dr. Srinivas Murali, head of cardiovascular medicine at Allegheny Health Network, said the network's flagship hospital, Allegheny General, has used the company's heart pumps for years. Researchers there have been involved in studying and evaluating the company's technology.

“It's very a critical area, and if we can improve the technology in these areas, that is going to be a major contribution and allow us to help a number of patients to recover,” Murali said.

Marous said the addition of the oxygenator, called TandemLung, and the TandemLife kit should accelerate sales by more than 30 percent this year, compared with last year. He declined to disclose revenue for the privately held company but said it is profitable.

There is a large potential market that could benefit from TandemLife devices, he said. An estimated 300,000 patients in the U.S. experience acute heart or lung failure each year.

And there are many more hospitals that could become customers, he said. About 800 of the nation's hospitals perform roughly 80 percent of procedures for heart and lung failure. TandemLife products are used in 150 of those medical centers.

“We're expecting very exciting growth,” he said.

Alex Nixon is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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