The company is testing, producing, and working toward final Food and Drug Administration approvals for two main devices:
One delivers the painkiller Lidocaine through the skin, needle free, but someday might be able to deliver other medications in a similar fashion. (Botox without the needles?)
The other device is a continuous glucose-monitoring system, which helps diabetics keep track of their blood sugar.
Drugstores have numerous glucose monitors for sale that involve pricking a finger to draw blood that goes on a strip. There are continuous glucose monitors on the market now, including devices made by pharmaceutical heavyweights Dexcom, Medtronic, and Abbott, but they involve a needle helping to keep a monitor in place to make readings.
The Echo version attaches to the skin, but without the needle.
The company is traded on the Over The Counter Bulletin Board market, as it awaits a listing on the Nasdaq. But investors are not waiting for that.
Platinum Partners, a New York hedge fund, bought shares through three of its funds over the years, including as recently as February, so it owns 9.9 percent of Echo. The nearly six million shares were worth $24.3 million, given Friday's closing price of $4.05.
The company is not profitable now, but part of the financial optimism stems from the idea that five important medical constituencies will like the blood glucose-monitoring system, in Mooney's opinion.
"In hospitals, keeping track of this now costs $200 per patient per day," Mooney said of blood-sugar levels. "It's two hours of nursing time per day now, so the nurses will be happier when they're using the quicker bio sensors. When you manage blood-sugar levels better, you have a lower morbidity rate, so doctors are happy. We think patients will like it more because it's needle-free. Hospital administrators will be happier because this might be $40 or $50 a day instead of $200 a day. And the insurance companies will be happier because patients leave the hospital sooner."
Mooney credits MIT professor Robert Langer for the invention of the devices. Hospitals would be a starting point for their use, but personal use by the growing numbers of adult Type 1 diabetics would seem possible. And if Echo got any slice of that market, it could make some money.
Type 1 diabetes, which used to be called juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease that often develops during childhood and involves the pancreas ceasing to produce insulin, which breaks down sugars. Type 2 diabetes occurs more often in adults and can be caused by obesity, family history, having diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes), and a sedentary lifestyle.
Very low blood sugars can be dangerous within a few minutes. Very high blood sugar levels can also cause acute problems. But higher-than-normal blood sugar levels, over time, can damage other parts of the body, including the heart, kidneys, and eyes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in January that it estimated that nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes and 79 million more adults have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood-sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. If America's weight problems and the current trend continue, the CDC said in a 2010 study, as many as one in three U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050.
"These distressing numbers show how important it is to prevent Type 2 diabetes and to help those who have diabetes manage the disease to prevent serious complications such as kidney failure and blindness," Ann Albright, director of CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation, said in a statement released with the study. "We know that a structured lifestyle program that includes losing weight and increasing physical activity can prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes."
The National Institutes of Health, which announced a coordinated plan to fight the disease, said the total cost of diabetes, including medical care, disability, and premature death, reached $174 billion in 2007.
Echo's two devices use some of the same technology, according to the company, including a handheld device that painlessly removes the top level of dead skin. The Prelude SkinPrep device then delivers the Lidocaine. The Symphony tCGM system, the continuous-monitoring system, adds a wireless biosensor that could transmit readings to a nursing station or to a handheld monitor to check glucose readings. Echo recently received a patent for its Symphony tCGM system.
The company is still doing trials and does not have final FDA approval to sell either device yet in the United States. It has agreements with two other companies, Ferndale Pharma Group and Handok Pharmaceuticals, for some of the manufacturing and marketing of the products, domestically and internationally.
But, besides working on the operating table, Mooney also worked as a Wall Street analyst, and he knows that Big Pharma is especially eager to buy small companies with potentially lucrative products, instead of creating them in-house.
"We think," Mooney said, "it's a billion-dollar industry."
Contact staff writer David Sell at 215-854-4506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.