SonoSite buys innovative Canadian
TORONTO and BOTHELL, Wash. –
SonoSite, Inc., a Bothell, Wash.-based company that’s a leader in
bedside and point-of-care ultrasound, announced it has acquired
privately held VisualSonics, a Toronto-based company focused on ultra
high-frequency micro-ultrasound technology, for US$67.9 million.
“This acquisition positions SonoSite for long-term growth in the
pre-clinical and clinical point-of-care markets and enables the creation
of potential breakthrough imaging products for both market spaces,” said
Kevin M. Goodwin, SonoSite President and CEO. “With unmatched ultra
high-frequency technology, which operates at five times the centre
frequency of a conventional ultrasound, VisualSonics’ micro-imaging
technology has the potential to revolutionize clinical medicine and
continue to transform pre-clinical research.”
VisualSonics’ ultrasound imaging technology is said to have the
potential to revolutionize the diagnosis of prostate and breast cancer
because of the unprecedented high resolution it shows of the first three
centimetres below the skin surface or within an organ. Its ultrasound
imaging machines are in 600 labs and companies worldwide.
“We can see things other clinical ultrasounds cannot,” VisualSonics CEO
Anil Amlani told CBC News.
“You get unbelievable resolution,” said venture capitalist Sam Ifergan,
who owns Toronto-based Hargan Ventures.
VisualSonics is “a great Canadian success story” that has changed both
research and clinical medical worldwide in just over eight years,
according Ifergan. It was Ifergan’s investment of $1.5 million over that
time that helped take VisualSonics to where it became a takeover target.
Ifergan came up with funding after an introductory meeting with
VisualSonics founder Stuart Foster in 2002 in Foster’s lab over a jar of
eyeballs. The jar was key to Foster’s pitch for money, because he was
then using an early version of the technology to image eyeballs.
“I remember that meeting, because it was fairly different,” said Ifergan.
“He imaged that, and I was pretty impressed with the image. After that,
I went to some people [in the research field] who said, ‘wow, that’s
never been done before.’”
Foster, who is based at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre,
spent 20 years figuring out how make the technology before building his
prototype in 1998. Multiple improvements led to the founding of VisualSonics in 2002 and the development of a technology used in 600
VisualSonics’ manufacturing facility at Yonge Street and Lawrence Avenue
in Toronto will remain in the city.
It’s employed in Toronto at the Hospital for Sick Children in tumour
imaging, at St. Michael’s Hospital to measure the arterial wall and
determine a patient’s risk of cardiovascular disease, and has recently
been approved by Health Canada for research into male infertility at
Mount Sinai Hospital.
The technology has been instrumental in research into cardiovascular
health, cancer, gene therapy and the evaluation of drug therapies.
“So SonoSite, which has the resources and the infrastructure, will be
able to take this Canadian technology and make it available to all the
people that are suffering today,” Amlani explained.
But both Amlani and Ifergan said there could be many more success
stories than there are. “I think the venture capital companies are
missing the boat a lot in Canada,” said Amlani.
“Canada has phenomenal research capability. Sunnybrook is the world’s
foremost research centre for high frequency [imaging].”
Ifergan agreed. “What we’ve seen is the evaporation of early stage
venture capital in Canada,” he said. “And it’s very sad, because these
are the companies that create leading-edge technology and jobs in
He blamed some early-stage funds, especially labour-sponsored funds,
which made “horrible” choices, “burned” their investors and now, with
the downturn, there is a lack of funds available.
The manufacturing facility at Yonge Street and Lawrence Avenue in
Toronto, where 100 VisualSonics employees design and develop its extreme
high-resolution ultrasound imaging systems, will remain in the city.
Posted July 15, 2010