3D jaws take a bite at disruption
George Dimitroulis says he is of a different mould from most surgeons
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