Osteopore’s implants regrow large and small bone defects, redefining what was previously thought impossible for many.

At only 19 months, Zia Sharul was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a premature fusion of the skull before the complete formation of the brain. If left untreated, the condition results in a deformity of the skull. In severe cases, cognitive development may be impaired — this includes thinking, problem-solving, and language abilities.

News of Zia’s condition took her parents by surprise. The young couple initially brought their first-born child to the doctor for what they thought was a flu. They were then strongly advised to get Zia’s condition checked when their doctor noticed her protruding eyes.

Surgery with regenerative technology

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Just 3 weeks later, Zia was scheduled for a 12-hour operation that involved 3 teams of doctors to re-position the bones in her skull using bioresorbable implants developed by Osteopore.

Even though this operation would encourage bone regrowth along the broken parts and enable her skull to develop properly, having their toddler go through surgery was nerve wracking for Zia’s parents.

Now almost three years old, Zia is just like any other toddler her age — having fun and running around with friends. Her scars from the operation are now covered by her hair. Her doctors said that she is unlikely to require additional surgery based on their results.   

A revolutionary innovation

Regenerative technology has been around for years. However, its commercialisation for use in surgeries is relatively new, and it is something that Osteopore is very familiar with.

At a lab in 1996, a multidisciplinary team from the National University of Singapore (NUS), Temasek Polytechnic, and the National University Hospital Singapore (NUH) developed a suitable bioresorbable (dissolvable in the body) material, structure, and manufacturing technique for their implants that effectively initiate bone regrowth.

When the implant completely dissolves, no foreign material would be left behind. They would go on to start Osteopore in 2003 to continue developing and making this technology available to patients and surgeons worldwide.

It was life changing. Implants were no longer seen as the glue that held bones together but a device that catalyses what the body does naturally — healing.

Today, Osteopore has come a long way from when it was founded in 2003. The company raised A$5.25 million ($5.5 million) in September 2019 when it went public on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) with 26.25 million shares at A$0.20 each.

In August 2020, the company raised a further A$8.5 million, selling 16.04 million shares at A$0.53 each in their second placement.

With the proceeds, Osteopore has invested in capital equipment and commercialisation activities.

Osteopore’s CEO, Goh Khoon Seng, who was an Adjunct Associate Professor at NTU’s School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering recalls just three machines in the company’s facility when they started. Now, the company has 15 3D printers that were specially designed to accommodate their unique resorbable material.  

“This year, we have budgeted to add another eight more units. So, by the end of this year, we should have about 23 units up and running,” he adds.

Constantly changing narratives

In addition to providing implants for Zia’s skull reconstruction, Osteopore also develops products that encourage bone growth in tooth extraction sockets to facilitate subsequent titanium dental implants. Moreover, they also design products for aesthetic regeneration of cheekbones or chins.

Their more recent development involves regeneration of larger bone structures.

In late 2019, Asha Morris, a 16-year old Australian teenager was told that she could lose her leg as a result of a particular type of cancer. The bone and tissue cancer, Ewings sarcoma, was present in her leg and caused her a lot of pain and discomfort.

Upon learning about her condition, she immediately started chemotherapy and was offered three options, one of which included amputation, which would render her unable to walk unaided for the rest of her life.

An alternative procedure involving an experimental technique based on regenerative tissue engineering was presented by Dr Michael Wagels, Plastic Reconstruction surgeon at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Australia. He proposed that a 3D printed scaffold of the tibia bone based on Osteopore’s technologyand wrapped in Asha’s tissue be implanted. This provided a blood supply to facilitate the growth of new bone.

It was a good thing that Asha opted for surgery with Dr Wagels.

Now, at 17 years old, and Morris can lightly weight bear on her leg, but doctors are confident that she will regain her mobility in the time to come. Even though she has to repeat a year of school due to her illness, the whole experience has made her decide to pursue medicine as a career.

Collaborations make better products

Osteopore’s synthetic scaffolds are bioresorbable and acts as a 3D structure that holds the cells to grow tissues. Similar to the concept of building scaffolding, the company’s scaffolds function as a structure to aid in repair and healing.

Highlighting the 3 dimensionality of Osteopore’s implants as opposed to the more commonly found 2D products in the market, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) Lim Jing explains, “Our product has a multi-directional pore structure. This very unique property creates an optimum environment for cells to grow. When cells occupy a space that is conducive for their growth, they eventually form tissues that characterise the healing process.”

“Our 3D printing machines are assembled and developed in-house. We have tailored our 3D printers to work with the materials that we use with our 3D printed devices,” Goh adds.

To optimise the use of its 3D printing technology, Osteopore has teamed up with US blood tech company Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies to collaborate and sell their respective regenerative products across Asia Pacific.

Terumo is known for its unique equipment for extracting bone marrow in a concentrated manner, potentially enhancing regeneration. These “autologous biologics” are considered the gold standard in bone marrow transplants as they are cells drawn from the patient’s own body.

Osteopore’s Business Development Director, Lee Kean Sang, says, “Osteopore’s scaffold provides a conducive housing environment for the cells and blood vessels to live and grow. In some cases, we will need to fit the scaffolds with biologics. In this case, Terumo will be providing the biologics, which helps to accelerate the healing.”

Future of regenerative tech

With a CAGR of 14.2% and expected market value of US$28.9 billion ($38.3 billion) by 2027, the global tissue engineering industry has been and will continue to gain momentum in the medical industry.

As for Osteopore, there is no slowing down. The company has plans to release more products in stages — some of which have enhanced properties to make the scaffolds more responsive to healing. Others are targeted at encouraging better vessel ingrowth.

They will also be collaborating with partners to identify new technology that can be combined with their products. “The concept of healing is important. It builds the technology that we have because it allows a lot of other products that are complementary to be combined in a very safe way and then delivered by the surgeon to achieve the optimum care based on the patients’ conditions,” Dr Lim explains.

As at May 3, 2021, shares in Osteopore are trading at A$0.52, valuing the company at around A$61 million.

Contact the company’s CFO, Dr Carl Runde, for more information at [email protected]. Osteopore is also active on LinkedIn and Twitter.