Please tell us about yourself
Like many successful medtech entrepreneurs and Ferolyn Fellows, Shreya Mehta has a passion and knack for building and finding solutions to challenging and unsolved problems — skills which led her to co-found and launch Zenflow.
The startup, where she is currently CTO, is developing a better treatment for nearly 400 million men worldwide who suffer from urinary obstruction due to an enlarged prostate.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
Since she was a young child, Shreya was naturally drawn to taking things apart and seeing how they worked. While she felt like an “engineer,” she found a particular interest in life sciences as she felt there was much to learn and many areas that were still largely misunderstood.
What did you study?
She thus pursued a master’s in bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh, and while there worked in the Medical Center’s Artificial Heart Program as part of a team responsible for patients who were on mechanical cardiac support. She also participated in an independent study program that focused on artificial heart valves, part of which included designing an instrument to place artificial valve tissue into a bioreactor.
This expertise in cardiovascular biomechanics caught the attention of the FDA, and she was recruited as a scientific reviewer of medical heart valves and artificial hearts. The position leveraged her technical skills and provided excellent experience and a window into the regulatory processes as companies brought their life-improving devices to market.
Following her stint at the FDA, Shreya was ready for a shift in her career and a return to her “building” roots that would satisfy her desire to solve unmet clinical needs first-hand. She was selected into the Stanford Biodesign program, where she met her eventual company co-founder, Nick Damiano. As part of the fellowship, the group spent time finding and evaluating clinical needs in the areas of urology and nephrology, and it became immediately obvious that they had an unparalleled opportunity to dramatically improve the treatment of enlarged prostates.
Tell us about your work
As they age, the majority of men will develop a larger prostate, which can lead to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that causes uncomfortable urinary problems, sleep disruption and potential kidney, urinary tract or bladder complications.
Despite its prevalence and significant impact on quality of life, current treatments are minimal – drugs, which have limited effectiveness, and surgery, which carries the potential risk of side effects and is not always successful in treating the condition.
As a Biodesign Fellow, what was the need you set out to address?
The clinical focus in 2013-14 was urology and nephrology. We went into the urology clinics and saw that almost all of the men who were there had some kind of issue with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Even if that wasn’t the primary reason for their visit, they were complaining about it, and they didn’t like the existing solutions. The market has changed a lot since then but, at the time, the only choices were drugs, which aren’t always effective and can have unpleasant side effects, or TURP, a highly-invasive surgery with a significant risk of complications. We wanted to develop a minimally-invasive approach with a lower risk profile.
Since then, other minimally-invasive solutions have become available, including the UroLift device by NeoTract, which was one of Josh Makower’s companies [Josh is co-founder of Stanford Biodesign]. That gave us pause, but we felt that we had an idea that could be better for the patient and the urologist. That’s the premise we started with, and we’ve only become more confident in our approach since then.
What key insight was most important to guiding the design of your solution?
“It was patient perspectives that led us down the path to our current device.”
It was patient perspectives that led us down the path to our current device. We learned that they really cared about the ease of the procedure, not having a rigid scope put in, the length of the recovery time, not needing a catheter after treatment. Those kinds of things were really important.
How does your work benefit the community?
Upon graduating from Stanford Biodesign, Nick and Shreya launched Zenflow to provide a minimally invasive, patient-friendly solution for men suffering from BPH. In true Silicon Valley fashion, they built their initial prototypes in a garage and quickly gained interest from several small investors. Their device, the Zenflow Spring System, is a permanent, flexible implant with minimal profile, which can be implanted in a simple, office-based procedure.
An early clinical trial has indicated that the Zenflow Spring System exceeds the outcomes of current therapies. The company is currently preparing for larger CE and FDA trials.
What do you love about your job?
Joining the Ferolyn Fellowship brings her full circle
Not surprisingly, Shreya was nominated by several professionals for the Ferolyn Fellowship. Not only did she have the privilege of meeting Ferolyn while she was at Stanford, but coincidentally, she was on the review team for Evalve, the company Ferolyn formed.
Shreya is very excited about the Fellowship and eager to focus on the big picture of her career. “When working at a startup, everything moves so fast that you are constantly focusing on the company moving forward,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to have Angela Macfarlane, CEO of ForSight Labs and experienced medtech entrepreneur, as my mentor, along with access to a whole cohort of experienced professionals who can provide invaluable insight into how I can expand my career.”