Author: Mariska Beirne
Published: March 1, 2016
Symbios Orthopédie SA

The joint architects from Yverdon

It was many years ago that Symbios found a niche for itself in the production of individually made hip implants. The innovative company now also wants to produce custom-made knee joints – in a market that offers vast potential.

A person born today has a good chance of living to the age of 100. That's a long time over which to play tennis, go skiing, and climb mountains. Alternatively, people may become obese and not get enough exercise. In either case they will put a lot of pressure on their joints. But even if they lead a very balanced life, their joint cartilage may at some point become worn out for no other reason than long life. The question then becomes, should the joint be replaced? 

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Clever planning saves resources

These days the world market for knee and hip implants is dominated by four large US companies. Jean Plé once managed the European arm of one of these firms before setting up his own business – Symbios – in 1990: "I saw that there was significant potential to improve implants, and the multinationals simply weren't interested," he explains. The idea behind Symbios is fascinating: The SME produces hip joints that are custom-made for the patient's body. Using computer tomography of the patient, a Symbios employee creates a customized joint on-screen using a 3D design program. If the physician is happy with it, the joint is produced by Symbios in Yverdon. Surgeons who use conventional hip implants try out a whole series of implants during such operations. A doctor working with Symbios products will have only one joint – and knows it will fit even before the operation begins. 

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Custom-made knee joints

The innovative company from Yverdon now manufactures not only customized hip implants, but also standard implants for hip and knee joints. Florent Plé, son of Jean Plé and recently appointed Deputy CEO of Symbios, draws an analogy: "It's like buying a suit: For some people, a suit straight off the rack fits like a glove, while for others the sleeves are too long, the pant legs too short, or the waist too large." But unlike buying a suit, the consequences of an ill-fitting implant are far more serious. Medical publications reporting on artificial knee joints indicate that 30 percent of individuals who undergo such an operation are dissatisfied with their prosthesis. This significant number inspired Jean and Florent Plé to think about manufacturing customized knee joints. However, the development costs were enormous. Symbios persuaded Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd. to invest, and successful clinical tests are already underway on the customized knee joints, which are due to hit the market in 2017. Nicolas Faivre, co-owner of Helvetica emphasizes: "Symbios has found the perfect niche for competing in the market alongside the US giants. The market potential is enormous, and it is highly likely that this SME will enjoy substantial growth in the future." 

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