Running in place
March 30, 2009 by Brian Johnson
Cambridge's InVivo Therapeutics is charging toward a cure for paralysis. Will investors come along for the ride?
Frank Reynolds taught himself how to walk again after doctors said he couldn't. He made a monkey run two weeks after a traumatic spinal cord injury. In fact, Frank Reynolds might even hold the cure for paralysis in the palm of his hands.
Who knew that would be the easy part?
Just after an investors conference last fall, Reynolds, the founder and chief executive of Cambridge’s InVivo Therapeutics Corp., stood just outside the conference center at Umass Boston’s Campus Center looking slightly bewildered.
Investors conferences are equal parts debutante ball, speed dating round and game show episode. It’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” with better odds.
Or they used to be, before AIG became a four-letter word and industry came looking for bailouts. But the ebullient spirit of entrepreneurialism knows no bounds, so, one-by-one, inventors, engineers and CEOs walked to the podium to show the investment community how their medical innovations would change the world.
Reynolds, a robust 44-year-old who speaks in rapid-fire, Bronx-tinged clips, is a master of the pitch. A meeting with Reynolds can leave you light-headed as he weaves through a life story that starts with a debilitating car accident, meanders the halls of M.I.T. and ends in a future where paralysis is a thing of the past. Friends describe him as a real-life “Energizer bunny” with endless enthusiasm and an evangelical zeal for helping the paralyzed.
But, despite Reynold’s animated pitch for InVivo’s spinal implant that November day,the buzz petered out after his presentation. There was glad-handing, business cards were exchanged along with general pleasantries, but Reynolds cut no deals.
After a few minutes, standing with a pair of lieutenants at his side, Reynolds flashed a moment of melancholy. Here he is, the man who overcame his own paralysis, who may hold the cure to paralysis, shoulder-to-shoulder with enough cash on the hoof to make the vision a reality, and all he had to show for it was a few kind words and a stack of business cards. Talk about a sign of the times.
"Imagine if this was 1998," he said to no one in particular.