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Mauna Kea changes plan as CEO departs

14 Dec 2021

Optical biopsy firm will focus on pulmonology and molecular imaging as it bids to preserve cash.

Mauna Kea Technologies, the French company that offers optical biopsies based on a confocal laser endomicroscopy technology platform, is to reorganize with a narrower application focus and a new CEO.

Paris-listed Mauna Kea said that the move was designed to improve operating efficiency, help retain cash, and aim its resources at the most lucrative uses of its “Cellvizio” product - namely interventional pulmonology and molecular imaging.

The strategic change will take place under a new leader. CEO Robert Gershon has resigned with immediate effect, and also stepped down from the firm’s board of directors.

Former Novartis executive Nicolas Bouvier will now serve as interim CEO while the board begins its search for a permanent replacement.

Sharper focus
Mauna Kea’s founder Sacha Loiseau, who moved from the CEO role to become company chairman following the appointment of Gershon in late 2018, said in a company release:

“With its broad regulatory clearances, unrivalled clinical evidence and unique imaging capabilities, Cellvizio has the capacity to enhance robotic and navigation platforms, deliver on the promise of molecular imaging, and support advanced therapeutic treatments.

“The [board] believes this realignment will enable Mauna Kea to better meet the needs of its clinicians, employees, and shareholders.”

As well as sharpening the company’s applications focus, the strategic realignment is intended to result in a more capital-efficient operating model, although Mauna Kea stressed that ongoing clinical programs in the areas of endoluminal robotics, bronchoscopic systems, and gastroenterology will be completed.

Molly O’Neil, the chair of Mauna Kea’s audit and compliance committee, commented: “We are very fortunate to have a talented executive team with the experience and passion to lead Mauna Kea to its fullest potential. We look forward to supporting Nicolas in his interim role.”

Johnson & Johnson connection
In its most recent financial results, for the third quarter of 2021, Mauna Kea posted sales of €1.8 million, down slightly on the prior year as the coronavirus pandemic continued to impact demand.

For 2020, the company reported a net loss of €12.8 million, and it had been hoped that the global recovery of medical caseloads from pandemic-enforced lows would assist take-up of the Cellvizo system, with the company still focused on gastrointestinal applications at the time.

However, in recent years the company has worked closely with the pharmaceuticals giant Johnson & Johnson, in an effort to validate the Cellvizio platform for identifying early-stage lung cancers.

Back in 2019, Johnson & Johnson’s venture capital unit acquired a 17.5 per cent equity stake in Mauna Kea.

A recent corporate presentation by the company indicates a total addressable market for interventional pulmonology worth around $1.3 billion annually, with potential applications in lung nodule biopsies, helping to assess lung transplant patients, and follow-up procedures in those suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.

Applications in molecular imaging could include fluorescence-guided surgery, evaluation of patient response to drug treatment, and imaging to aid robotic surgery.

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