Hope for Spinal Cord Injury Victims: InVivo Gets $13 Million

A partially paralyzed CEO brings a dogged approach to researching a novel treatment for spinal cord injuries. Up next: human trials.



InVivo Therapeutics, a biotech company focusing on spinal cord injuries, got a fresh $13 million in funding this week from Spencer Trask. InVivo’s CEO, Frank Reynolds, was once nearly paralyzed himself, which has lent an urgency to his work.

In December 1992, Reynolds was driving to work when another car crashed into the rear of his Oldsmobile. When he woke up that night in the hospital, Reynolds found himself unable to move. A dislocated vertebra had pinched his spinal cord. Years of physical therapy yielded minimal results: he could walk 80 feet at a time, in excruciating pain.

Reynolds began to scour databases of university libraries and obscure medical journals. Inspired by his readings and by progress in his extra-rigorous physical therapy, Reynolds founded InVivo, a company dedicated to breaking new ground in spinal cord injury treatment. InVivo soon developed a tiny implant designed to contain the aftershocks of traumatic spinal cord injury, which causes healthy cells to self-destruct. The device has been shown to work in primates.

Up next: FDA approval for human trials, scheduled for adjudication early next year. To win that, Reynolds needs to demonstrate that he has a “good manufacturing practice” facility–one that’s safe and sterile. With the new money in place, Reynolds has been able to sign a contract on such a facility, which he hopes to have operational by March. If human trials are successful, InVivo would be offering the first commercial spinal cord treatment for humans; currently, most treatments only try to ameliorate symptoms.

The device, designed as it is to be installed just hours after the traumatic injury, is not intended for Reynolds himself. Though able to walk, he still hasn’t fully recovered. He can drive, he says, but needs two feet to push the pedals; the sensory damage, and accompanying pain, are still with him. “I’ll never be normal,” he tells Fast Company. “But I can function. That’s where our hope is for our patients.”

[Image: Flickr user warrenski]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.