Very few people are spared from back pain over their lifetimes. The rest of us will have to seek help for it at least occasionally. Sometimes surgery is unavoidable due to an accident, excessive strain, or a genetic defect.
However, conventional spinal surgery is complex, requires a lot of materials, and is inflexible. Neo Medical from Vaud is changing all that.
Conventional spinal surgery has used the same procedure for 30 years, including an arsenal of 200–400 special screws, known as pedicle screws, sorted by length and diameter. Then there are 5–7 drawers of surgical instruments that are used during the operation. Often, the components come from countries with low manufacturing costs. Then there is the effort involved in sterilizing all screws and instruments before the surgery, and the ever-present risk of infection. Thanks to the procedure developed by Neo Medical, the "lean" principle, which means a few intelligently selected components, can be used in operating rooms. Its simplicity, flexibility, and safety are nothing short of revolutionary: a set of 14 identical screws and one set of disposable instruments. Both are Swiss quality, sterile, and polyvalent.
One type to rule them all
Screws and tools are mass-produced, but every human body is unique. Sometimes during an operation, a particular complication may mean that the intended method is insufficient. Planning and the cost of materials are more extensive under the conventional method. This can mean that surgeons have to deviate from the ideal procedure if they haven't accounted for alternate options ahead of time. Neo's method is flexible, enabling surgeons to make important decisions at a moment's notice – such as whether to use cemented screws for an osteoporosis patient.
All methods of thoraco-lumbar fusion can be performed with a single screw type and one set of standard instruments. What's more, they are used just once, so they are always new, sterile, and free from wear. Neo has improved flexibility and efficiency in the operating room and reduced the amount of planning needed.
The pedicle screw system (the screws are placed at the "pedicle," or base of the spine) developed by Neo Medical allows for immobilization, correction, and stabilization of an area in the spine, and is the basis for spinal fusion.
Cages replace disks
The most common procedure in fusion surgery relates to the replacement of disks with cages. Neo Medical has now brought the development of these cages to market, and they have already been used in some surgeries. The titan mesh cages are produced by 3D printer and used as spacers between the vertebral bodies. The cages are mainly used for degenerative disc diseases, which affects about 60% of cases. The cages are filled with a bone graft (from the patient's own, or donor, materials) to stimulate bone growth between the adjacent vertebral bodies.
The cage system replaces the damaged disks, acts as a buffer between the adjacent vertebrae, and helps bone to grow. In the event of a fracture, the screws are removed once the patient heals; however, in most degenerative cases, the components stay in the patient's body.
Personal contact with European surgeons
The global spinal surgery market has a sales volume of CHF 12–13 billion. Fusion accounts for about two-thirds of this, and two-thirds of fusion procedures are in the thoraco-lumbar area. Neo Medical focuses on the latter, with a potential market volume of about CHF 6 billion.
How do you sell a tool system in a highly specialized customer segment such as this? "We invest a lot of time and are in direct contact with the surgeons, including training on our system. Our distributors and client advisors play a pivotal role here," says CEO Jonas Larsson.
(Jonas Larsson, Co-CEO & President und Vincent Lefauconnier, Co-CEO; Neo Medical SA)
The most important markets in European spinal surgery are Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Companies that can achieve the success that Neo has in Germany are well prepared for the European market.
The growth potential is impressive: For 2018, Neo expects a major increase in the number of operations versus the prior year. In terms of the complexity of procedures performed with Neo's equipment, the company's initial expectations have been surpassed – illustrating the versatility and user-friendliness of the system.
Next stop: USA
In the fall of 2017, Neo Medical received FDA approval for the US market. The first operation performed with Neo components in the US was in the first quarter of 2018.
Backed by its investment partner Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd., Neo Medical is now ready for its next wave of expansion. The company's strategy is now aimed at further growth in the European market, especially Germany, and the market launch in the US. All systems are go for simplified spinal surgery in the operating rooms – which benefits the customers of the med-tech company from Lausanne, but more importantly, patients around the world.
Thanks to a unique product, a global market, and no direct competitors, Neo Medical has a bright future. Ultimately, the biggest hurdle is not market-related in nature, but rather a matter of the – sometimes stubborn – habits in the operating room. Fortunately, satisfied patients make great ambassadors!