With its successful IPO last week, ReWalk, the company behind the Israeli-developed exoskeleton system designed to help paraplegics walk, is ready to go to market. But that’s not all. The highly praised firm is looking past restoring the use of legs to aiding victims of multiple sclerosis (MS), palsy and strokes.
The key was the coveted approval by the FDA. As a result, it’s no longer a closed beta system, said company CEO Larry Jasinski, and ReWalk is now available throughout the US, as well as in several countries in Asia, Europe, and of course Israel. “And what’s even better is we are already working with insurers to cover the cost of the system,” Jasinski noted. That’s a key to its wide distribution, because as beneficial as it is, ReWalk is not cheap.
ReWalk has been called “miraculous,” “groundbreaking,” and “the wave of the future” — and Jasinski certainly won’t dispute any of those descriptions. Jasinski joined ReWalk in 2012, after a long career in medical devices, helping to lead companies like Boston Scientific; as a CEO, he help shepherd two start-ups to major buyouts by medical tech firms. “I’ve been in the medical technology business for 30 years, and I have had more fun working on this than any other thing I’ve done,” Jasinski said. “It’s one of the few things I’ve ever seen that has so fundamentally changed the lives of the people who are using it.”
ReWalk allows paraplegics to walk, almost the same as an able-bodied person. A forward tilt of the upper body triggers the first step, and gets the system going. Once the wearer is in motion, the system continues to “walk” while the body or head move forward, in the same manner as an able-bodied person. There are several other exoskeleton systems in development, but ReWalk is the first to receive FDA approval.
The system has been extensively studied and tested in Israel, the US, and Europe, and it’s in use by people around the world who participated in ReWalk’s beta program. In addition to providing wearers with the ability to stand and walk independently, clinical studies show that using the ReWalk provides significant mental health benefits, since users have a much more positive self-image as they gain independence and control over their movements. Besides this, the studies show, using ReWalk promotes cardiovascular health, loss of fat tissue, building of lean muscle mass, and improved bowel function. ReWalk users report that since they began using the system, they have less pain, take fewer medications, and are in the hospital less often.
Last Friday, ReWalk filed its IPO on the NASDAQ stock exchange — and by the end of the trading day, the stock had shot up 130% over its initial pricing. The shares closed at $25.60 after the initial strike price of $14 — which indicates that investors believe that the company is worth more than twice the $200 million valuation ReWalk set for itself.
There are good reasons for investors to be as excited about ReWalk as paralyzed individuals are. “We are going to be using the money raised in the IPO to expand our research and production, almost all of which is done in northern Israel,” said Jasinski “On our short list of R&D projects is adapting the ReWalk technology to enable quadriplegics — those who cannot use their limbs at all — to be able to function.” Dr. Amit Goffer, inventor of the system, is working to adapt the technology for other uses as well, said Jasinski, with components and devices that will eventually assist people suffering from multiple sclerosis, palsy, paralysis due to stroke, and other conditions.
As of now, any paraplegic with $69,500 can get to a doctor’s office and, several weeks later, walk out with a ReWalk. That, obviously, is a bit rich for most people’s blood, so insurance is probably the only way ReWalk would be able to reach the 200,000 or so people in the US that Jasinski believes could benefit from it.
There’s good news on that front, said Jasinski. Earlier this year, ReWalk got full FDA approval for rehabilitative center use, as well as for home use. With FDA approval, insurance companies have become interested, and ReWalk has struck its first insurance deal — with the Veteran’s Administration in the US, which is setting up disabled veterans at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx with systems.
Why would the VA want to shell out $69,500 for this device? “Because it will save them money in the long run,” said Jasinski. “Our estimates show that the ReWalk costs the same as two years’ worth of drugs, rehabilitative personnel, and hospitalization expenses paraplegics require. Our system is guaranteed for five years, so the companies are saving three years’ worth of expenses.”
ReWalk was personally reviewed by US President Barack Obama on his visit to Israel in 2013. The system was part of a special exhibition called “Israeli Technology For a Better World” at the Israel Museum, which highlighted seven of Israel’s most important tech contributions. Like the hundreds of people around the world who are using ReWalks, Obama called the system “revolutionary” — and Obama didn’t even know the half of it. “This is the next wave in medical devices,” said Jasinski. “I know it’s hard to believe, but in five to 10 years this is going to be standard treatment for many people with many medical conditions — not just paraplegia.”