Improving Surgical Outcomes

With no major advances in understanding its underlying mechanisms, inhalational anesthesia is kind of a Victorian-era solution in a healthcare industry fueled by innovation. A medical and entrepreneurial collaboration is opening our eyes to improvements in effects, access and implementation of a new, safer class of drugs that are crucial in surgical suites worldwide.

Four years ago, veterinary anesthesiologist Robert Brosnan attended the Biomedical + Engineering Entrepreneurship Academy, a four-day commercialization program offered by the UC Davis Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. There Brosnan met UC Davis alumnus and veteran entrepreneur Mark Holman, who was serving as a mentor at the academy. The pair started a conversation about Brosnan’s work on advancing anesthesia.

At the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Brosnan and his team were probing a mystery of neuroscience: how general anesthesia works and why we can experience, in veterinary and human medicine, negative side effects of its use on respiratory and cardiovascular function. Holman’s eyes lit up as he realized the enormous opportunity of Brosnan’s research. By the end of the academy, they shared an ambitious goal: nothing short of revolutionizing an area of medicine and patient care that hasn’t changed markedly since before the U.S. Civil War.

Medical Game Changer

Brosnan, a professor in the Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences, says his team has identified what they believe is a plausible molecular mechanism of action for these drugs, allowing them to “make predictions regarding new anesthetic agents that nobody has ever studied before.” He foresees anesthesia with fewer side effects and more beneficial actions than current drugs because of his team’s ability to isolate agents and their effects.

That’s where Holman’s business know-how and his network enter. Holman saw a viable “lab-to-market” path and demand for better and more cost effective anesthesia. The start-up company he formed in 2013, Expanesthetics, with Brosnan as the chair of the scientific advisory board, has raised over $2.25 million from investors, many of whom are affiliated with UC Davis. “I think the discovery would probably have died without somebody like Mark to help bring it forward,” Brosnan said.

How the Start-up Company Started

Expanesthetics Expands

While the Expanesthetics team continues to work on offering superior choices of anesthesia, the start-up also discovered a drug that could lead to better pain treatment, opening up the possibility of a spinout company to raise additional funding, build a team and form local and international collaborations. Holman says the company is now sought out by “global animal health companies, the U.S. government, an international medical research institute, and others” to further expand knowledge and services.

The Graduate School of Management describes Expanesthetics in detail here.

Lab-to-Market Path

Lab-to-market paths for new drugs, medical devices and technologies start with building networks. The next Biomedical + Engineering Entrepreneurship Academy is July 10-12, 2017. It offers:

  • Tools to communicate the broader potential of research
  • A test bed to explore market opportunities
  • Mentoring and feedback sessions with veteran entrepreneurs and start-up experts


Tim Akin is the executive director of marketing and communications for the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

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