Article via The Waterloo Record – Intellijoint Surgical has beaten the odds by bringing to market, in less than five years, a smart tool that enables surgeons to make exact measurements when doing hip replacement surgeries.
After raising more than $7.5 million from investors, the five-year-old Waterloo company has obtained regulatory approvals for its surgical tool in Canada and the U.S.
It recently released a commercial version of the tool, which has been used successfully in more than 250 hip replacement surgeries — including surgeries at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener.
The overwhelming majority of startups fail — as many as 80 to 90 per cent don’t make it, according to technology experts. The failure rate is even higher for startups in the medical device arena. They have the expense and challenges of a hardware startup plus the additional work and expense required for demanding regulatory approvals.
“It has been a very educational experience with my co-founders and I not having formal experience in the medical device space before starting the company,” said chief executive officer Armen Bakirtzian.
“I think we have shown our team has been able to put together a solid medical device, a solid product, and do so in a way that is more efficient that most companies,” he said. “We have spent less than $10 million getting us to where we are today.”
The firm’s other founders are chief technology officer Andre Hladio and chief science officer Richard Fanson. All three founders are graduates of the mechatronics engineering program at the University of Waterloo.
Until now, surgeons doing hip replacement surgery did not have technology to help them ensure their measurements were accurate. Patients sometimes came out of the hospital with one leg several centimetres shorter than the other. Almost one-third of hip replacement patients say they are not happy with the results, Bakirtzian said.
Intellijoint’s tool ensures that surgeons pick the right size of hip implant. It also helps orient the implant inside the body. When an implant is done incorrectly, it can dislocate when a patient crosses their legs.
“Our product gives the surgeon explicit information in real time during the surgery as to how they are doing so they can avoid these complications,” Bakirtzian said.
The tool reduces complications, speeds recovery, lowers costs and greatly reduces the need for repeat surgeries due to incorrect measurements, he said. “So there is an economic argument as well for the hospital as well.”
Dr. Matthew Snider, an orthopedic surgeon at Grand River Hospital, said Intellijoint’s tool provides him with critical information. “Real-time intraoperative metrics are useful to improve the outcome of hip replacement surgery,” he said.
Intellijoint, which employs 22 people in offices on Bathurst Drive, believes demand for this kind of technology will increase over time because as the baby boom generation ages, hip and knee replacements have become one of the most common operations.
Government grants helped the company develop the technology in its early stages. It received $950,000 from the federal government’s Investing in Business Innovation initiative in 2012. The company, founded in 2010 as Avenir Medical, also raised funds from angel investors, surgeons, wealthy individuals and small institutions.
“It is a feel good thing to have the confidence from the investor community to turn that money into value for our shareholders, and really keep this as a Waterloo story and a Canadian story,” Bakirtzian said.
Four hospitals in Ontario — Grand River, Mount Sinai in Toronto, Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial and Toronto East General — and four more in the U.S. are using Intellijoint’s technology. “The feedback we are getting is very positive,” Bakirtzian said.
He noted that Intellijoint’s tool does not require hospitals to make a big capital investment. “Intellijoint Hip goes into the hospital with zero capital costs, zero investment from the hospital.”
From conception to commercialization, Intellijoint’s founders kept a cadre of surgeons closely involved with design changes to the device. “It is pretty much exactly what they want,” Bakirtzian said.
“It satisfies the surgeons’ needs from a clinical point of view, but also does not add time to the surgery. It is inexpensive and simple to use. The surgeons are really happy with the product.”
Four orthopedic surgeons are on the startup’s scientific-medical advisory board. The input of surgeons helped Intellijoint make rapid progress. The company had a concept for the technology when it moved into the Accelerator Centre in October 2010; less than three years later, in December 2013, the first surgery was performed with its product.
“Going from concept to approved product, doing a live surgery, in less than three years, I think it’s pretty substantial,” Bakirtzian said.
The device is manufactured in different locations around North America, but everything passes through the Bathurst Drive facility for light assembly, packaging and shipment to customers.
The core technology has a wide range of applications Intellijoint has yet to pursue. It plans to develop a new version of its measurement device to be used in knee surgeries.
“I think there is a lot that our company can do,” Bakirtzian said. “Knee replacement is a type of surgery that would benefit from our technology.”