By Mary Vanac

Checkpoint Surgical has begun a national launch of its hand-held device used to identify nerves during surgery.

The Checkpoint Stimulator/Locator stimulates motor nerves so surgeons can avoid damaging them during surgery. The device also helps physicians gauge nerve and muscle health.

The device, cleared for sale by the Food & Drug Administration in October 2009, addresses a significant need, according to Checkpoint Surgical. More than 1.5 million orthopedic, plastic, and ear, nose and throat surgeries performed each year in the United States put patients at risk of nerve injury. The company’s disposable nerve stimulator gives surgeons confidence about what tissue to cut — and not cut.

Earlier this year, the Highland Hills, Ohio, company piloted markets for its device among mostly orthopedic surgeons at more than a dozen hospitals and surgical centers in Ohio, Missouri, New York, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

"Surgeon enthusiasm and adoption during the limited pilot program has been extremely encouraging," said Checkpoint CEO Len Cosentino in a press release. "The positive response from surgeons combined with significant interest from distributors and product purchases by 10 hospitals has convinced us to proceed with the national commercial launch."

In March, Checkpoint Surgical hired Stephen Jacobs as vice president of sales to lead the national expansion. Jacobs has more than 20 years of medical product sales and sales management experience with Johnson & Johnson companies and Abbott Labs. Most recently, he was area vice president of sales for Depuy Spine, a Johnson & Johnson company.

“We are seeing strong evidence that we’ve created a medical device that is highly valued by those who use it,” said Cosentino, who declined to specify how much each of the disposable devices costs. “In the device industry, that is a major achievement.”

Checkpoint is selling its device over the phone, online and through independent distributors nationwide. “Steve is building a nationwide independent sales force, and already we have salespeople in place from Maine to North Carolina, in a number of midwest states, and most recently, in California,” he said.

“Our goal is to have 100 reps in healthcare centers across the country by the end of the year. We are initially targeting the orthopedic and plastic surgery market, but the device also has application in trauma, otolaryngology and neurosurgery procedures.” he said.

The company recently transferred manufacture of the device to Delta Systems Inc. in Streetsboro, Ohio, Cosentino said.

Late last year, Checkpoint Surgical raised $1.1 million from JumpStart Inc., the venture developer in Northeast Ohio, and from private investors and company managers to complete development and commercialization of its device. The company used some of that money for its pilot sales effort early this year.

In April, Checkpoint raised an additional $250,000 from angel investor group Medical Growth Fund to build its inaugural sales force and distribution network.

Founders of the fund read like a Who’s Who list of medical technology entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio: Ray Dalton, founder and chief executive of medical equipment supplier PartsSource is the fund’s chairman. Others include Imalux CEO Michael Burke and Chairman Bill Sanford, Chuck Hallberg of MemberHealth, Jim Hummer of Whole Health Management, Colin Scully of Life Line Screening and Geoff Thrope of NDI Medical.

NDI Medical, which incubates neuromodulation devices, spun out Checkpoint Surgical in mid-2009. Thrope, who is NDI’s president and chief executive, is a director for Checkpoint.

The company is nearing the completion of its first round of financing, raising about $2 million. Cosentino said he likely would begin raising more money from investors near the end of the year.