3D jaws take a bite at dis­rup­tion

Ge­orge Dim­itroulis says he is of a dif­fer­ent mould from most sur­geons

The Weekend Australian - - BUSINESS - SARAH-JANE TASKER

Mel­bourne max­illo­fa­cial sur­geon Ge­orge Dim­itroulis is dis­rupt­ing the med­i­cal de­vice in­dus­try with 3D-printed prod­ucts that are rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing jaw surgery, and he is now eye­ing the US mar­ket as part of an am­bi­tious global ex­pan­sion.

Dr Dim­itroulis, the founder of OMX So­lu­tions, says the jaw joint mar­ket is now where the orthopaedic mar­ket for hip re­place­ments was in the 1970s — not much choice in terms of prod­ucts.

He says it is a mar­ket “ripe for dis­rup­tion” and he is gear­ing up to take the lead in that dis­rup­tion.

It was in 2012 that the sur­geon first had the idea to de­velop a new style of jaw joint. Af­ter a few years of re­search at the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne and with project fund­ing run­ning out, Dr Dim­itroulis de­cided to form his own com­pany to get the prod­uct to pa­tients.

His idea took off as 3D print­ing be­came the new craze in medtech. Dr Dim­itroulis says he ex­ploited that plat­form to cus­tomise de­vices. He did his first 3D jaw joint surgery in June 2015 and set up OMX a year later.

Dr Dim­itroulis says he is not like most sur­geons, who he says are a con­ser­va­tive bunch who don’t like to think out­side the square. He de­scribes him­self as “from a dif­fer­ent mould”.

He says that as a sur­geon work­ing on can­cer pa­tients, he ques­tioned why 20th cen­tury tech­nol­ogy was be­ing used to re­build jaws for peo­ple with mouth can­cer when there was new tech­nol­ogy that could im­prove their lives and sim­plify the surgery.

“I would stand back and say, ‘Am I pro­vid­ing pa­tients with the best pos­si­ble treat­ment?’ ” he says. “I felt for a long time we weren’t and there was a lot of things miss­ing in the way we treat these pa­tients, par­tic­u­larly can­cer pa­tients.”

OMX, which em­ploys six bio­med­i­cal and IT-based en­gi­neers, has four prod­ucts ap­proved in Aus­tralia and a pipe­line of new de­vices. It is fo­cused on im­plants for pa­tients with cranio-max­illo­fa­cial de­for­mi­ties.

The lead prod­uct is the jaw joint, which is tap­ping into a mar­ket that Dr Dim­itroulis says is small at $US40 mil­lion$US50m ($55.4m-$70m) a year.

“We think that could eas­ily ex­pand once we start com­pet­ing with the Amer­i­can mar­ket and bring­ing down the price of de­vices,” he says.

An even big­ger mar­ket OMX plans to tap into is den­tal im­plants. Its new de­vice is the OsseoFrame, which is for peo­ple with very lit­tle jaw­bone who need den­tal im­plants. That space is a $US5 bil­lion-a-year mar­ket, which the OMX founder says is ready to be ex­ploited.

“This de­vice will re­ally open a new in­dus­try of den­tal im­plant tech­nol­ogy that is non-ex­is­tent,” Dr Dim­itroulis says. “We are in­tro­duc­ing this brand new tech­nol­ogy where we are not only restor­ing the nor­mal con­tour of the jaw but we are also pro­vid­ing a plat­form for teeth.

“Pa­tients can go back to be­ing nor­mal, rather than look­ing like they’ve had this mon­strous surgery and all the de­for­mity that goes with peo­ple who have miss­ing jaws and teeth.”

OMX is self-funded at present but is in talks with in­vestors to raise up to $5m to ac­cel­er­ate plans to sell the prod­ucts glob­ally.

“I think that no amount of patents will pro­tect you from other coun­tries if you don’t get this out in the mar­ket. You have got to be a mar­ket leader with this,” Dr Dim­itroulis says.

He hopes that in the next five years the com­pany can de­velop a global pres­ence. “The Amer­i­can do­mes­tic mar­ket is ba­si­cally 50 per cent of the global mar­ket when it comes to these im­plants, and if we crack the Amer­i­can mar­ket, that is re­ally the pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow.”

Dis­rupters al­ways ruf­fle a few feath­ers and Dr Dim­itroulis says his jaw joint has ruf­fled a few in the US. “One of my en­gi­neers went over to Amer­ica a few months ago to present our data and the lead­ing sur­geons there were up in arms about the fact that with 3D print­ing there is not much re­search yet,” he says.

“But we are telling them we know it works as we have done it in over 120 pa­tients.”

The world of 3D print­ing is cre­at­ing a whole new ap­proach to man­u­fac­tur­ing de­vices. A sur­geon can up­load data and send a scan to OMX, and its en­gi­neers will de­sign the prod­uct. On the sur­geon’s fi­nal ap­proval, a switch is hit and the im­plant is printed.

Dr Dim­itroulis says 3D print­ing of cus­tomised de­vices is not only a win for pa­tients but it will also drive down costs in the health­care sys­tem. “3D print­ing has made it pos­si­ble to open up an era of per­son­alised medicine with cus­tom-made de­vices that are made at the ef­fi­ciency of mass pro­duc­tion,” he says.

“We are think­ing of mar­ket­ing the 3D cus­tomised jaw joint at the cost of an im­plant that is off the shelf, in­stead of charg­ing the health fund three times as much, which is what the Amer­i­cans do at the mo­ment with cus­tom de­vices.”

The OMX boss says he has no plans to list his com­pany on a stock ex­change at this point, with the cur­rent fund­ing talks fo­cused on pri­vate in­vestors.

He adds that un­like in the US where ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists are more will­ing to take risks, Aus­tralian fun­ders are a lit­tle more cau­tious. “I think they are still very con­ser­va­tive in Aus­tralia. It’s dis­ap­point­ing when you talk to some of them and they just can­not see the po­ten­tial.”

Dr Dim­itroulis can clearly see the po­ten­tial and says that what drives him to keep push­ing these prod­ucts is the le­gacy he wants to leave be­hind.

That le­gacy for him is know­ing that he has de­vel­oped a suite of prod­ucts that other sur­geons will use for the ul­ti­mate ben­e­fit of their pa­tients.

“What also drives me is when pa­tients come back and say thank you, you’ve re­ally changed my life,” he says. “That is the re­ward that is most in my mind.”

‘We are telling them we know it works as we have done it in over 120 pa­tients’ GE­ORGE DIM­ITROULIS OMX SO­LU­TIONS


Ge­orge Dim­itroulis at The Ep­worth hospi­tal in Mel­bourne

Dr Dim­itroulis per­forms a pro­ce­dure us­ing 3D-printed med­i­cal im­plants for pa­tients with cranio-max­illo-fa­cial de­for­mi­ties

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