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More than just bone regeneration

The Edge Singapore
The Edge Singapore • 7 min read
More than just bone regeneration
Osteopore sees huge market potential for its bone regeneration technology. Its bigger goal, however, is helping patients recover to full life.
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Osteopore sees huge market potential for its bone regeneration technology. Its bigger goal, however, is helping patients recover to full life.

SINGAPORE (Aug 19): In 2017, an Australian man in his 20s developed a severe infection in his tibia that resulted in 36cm of his bone being removed. Bone grafting is a proven solution but is limited only to a short segment, not something of this scale. Another solution was to amputate the shin from kneecap down. However, his joints at the knee and ankle were fi ne, as were the nerves in the leg. “If you can replace that bone, you can restore a functional limb,” recounts Dr Michael Wagels, a surgeon with Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.

A team of surgeons, scientists and researchers got to work. Dr Wagels and the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre in Additive Biomanufacturing, part of the Queensland University of Technology, created a customised design of a replacement for the young man’s tibia.

Osteopore International, a Singapore-based company, was then asked to lend its expertise: Take the design and create a 3D-printed regenerative implant of the bone – all 36cm of it. Dr Wagels performed the procedure successfully, and the patient is on his way to recovery. “The idea of having something that is available to address some of these problems, to fi x the unfixable, is really exciting,” he says.

Utilising its proprietary 3D printing process, Osteopore manufactures bioresorbable 3D scaffolds with a biomimetic microstructure to create a cell-friendly environment that facilitates natural bone regeneration. After two years, with the bone properly healed, the structure dissolves into carbon dioxide and water.

Professor Teoh Swee Hin, founder and chairman of Osteopore, describes the process as making a home for the cells to grow and stay connected. Nutrients can flow in and waste can flow out and over time, when rejuvenation is completed, the scaffolds disappear.

Osteopore can trace its genesis back to some two decades ago to Professor Teoh’s research into tissue engineering using 3D printing. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is the essential process for creating the commercialised product on which Osteopore is built.

Unique position

According to Dr Ho Chaw Sing, managing director of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC), Osteopore is the only company in the world today with a 3D-printed regenerative implant solution cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), uniquely positioning it as a market leader in the emerging space of patient-specific bioresorbable implants.

The company’s unique intellectual property is able to make the leap from laboratory to market. Starting with the US FDA clearance in 2006, Osteopore has also received other approvals for the sale of its products, such as the Health Sciences Authority certification in Singapore in 2007, the CE Mark in 2009, and the Korea Ministry of Food and Drug Safety certification in 2011. “Their product has undergone several clinical trials over the years, achieving a high recovery success rate in patients with debilitating bone or trauma injuries that require bone grafts or implants, validating their core technology,” says Dr Ho.

The 3D printing industry is growing and companies such as Osteopore are adding — and capturing — higher value in this market. A recent study published by German industrial conglomerate Thyssenkrupp, in partnership with EOS GmbH and NAMIC, puts the estimated economic value of additive manufacturing in Southeast Asia at US$100 billion ($138.2 billion). The industry provides three million to four million jobs. “With [Osteopore’s] listing on the Australian Stock Exchange, they will be able to scale faster in key markets, which is the focus for them currently,” adds Dr Ho.

On July 26, Osteopore launched its IPO. It is seeking to raise A$5.25 million ($4.93 million) by selling 26.25 million shares at 20 Australian cents each. Based on this IPO price, the company’s market value will be just over A$20 million. The offer will close on Aug 23 and trading is scheduled to start on Sept 19.

In the dozen years since Osteopore has been operating commercially, more than 20,000 of its products have been implanted successfully. For the financial year ended Dec 31, 2018, the company generated revenue of $934,878, up 53% from $610,620 in the preceding year.

The company’s unique position, growth trajectory and bright prospects have attracted investors such as Dato Seri Marcus Liew and Dato Ken Low of Asia Cornerstone Asset Management to help it grow further.

Funds raised from the IPO will be used to step up its market and business development activities, especially in countries such as the US, where it is relatively under-represented despite the market size, says Osteopore CEO Goh Khoon Seng.

Now, even with its products gaining wider commercial acceptance, the company is not sitting still. The team is constantly busy doing research and development. Osteopore aims to produce improved product variants to serve larger market segments in dental, orthopedic and spine surgery, and maintain its market leadership position. “We have a pipeline of materials and pipeline of devices to be developed,” says Goh.

For example, Dr Lim Jing, Osteopore’s chief technology officer, has come up with the innovation of adding soluble magnesium into newer versions of the product. The magnesium is broken down into trace elements, which gives health benefits to bones, and dissolved and absorbed into the patients’ bodies. “Instead of just providing a nice house for the cells to stay, we also want to feed them,” explains Dr Lim, borrowing from Professor Teoh’s analogy.

Dr Lim received his doctorate from Nanyang Technological University in 2015. He co-authored at least 15 academic papers with Professor Teoh, who was chair of the NTU’s School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering between 2013 and 2017. According to Dr Lim, global patents of the magnesium-added material are now pending approval in various jurisdictions, including Australia.

Role model for medtech companies

From Dato Seri Marcus Liew’s perspective, companies such as Osteopore are shining examples of the medtech industry in Singapore. The company showcases the successful translation from research to commercialisation through the effective integration of talent and resources from both the public and private sectors, and is a role model for other medtech companies. “And for us, as professional investors, these are the kind of companies that we will be very happy to invest our time and resources in,” he says.

Clearly, the company is keen to create new markets and not just capture a bigger slice of existing ones. Yet, for Osteopore, it is not just about profit and the satisfaction of achieving breakthroughs in science and technology — it is also about helping patients.

The young Australian who had his entire tibia replaced was just one patient who benefited from Osteopore’s expertise. In 2013, Nikita, then an 18-year-old, was badly hurt in a car accident in India. Her parents were killed and there was an injury on her skull bigger than a man’s hand. Upon request, Professor Teoh provided an implant at cost to her surgeon Dr Sharan Srinivasan, who went on to repair Nikita’s skull.

Even after the successful procedure that saved her life, Professor Teoh feared she would not be able to lead a normal life. To his delight and surprise, Nikita recently sent him a photo of herself and her two-year-old son. “That’s a very good feeling for us,” he says.

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