SYNOSTE has developed a notable application that can change patients’ lives when it comes to lengthening bones.
A globally unique method to lengthen bone
The story of the growth company SYNOSTE is incredible: three students from Aalto University, an unrivalled business idea, millions in funding, the vast international market ready to be conquered and the company being selected among the 25 most interesting start-up companies in Europe. While still at university, Harri Hallila, Juha Haaja and Antti Ritvanen developed an implant that allows for bone to be lengthened painlessly. The aim is to introduce the product to the market in 2017.
But first, let’s return to the end of 2006 and where it all begun, to the cellar at Aalto University campus, pottering about with demos.
“All three of us were studying bioadaptive technology and were a part of the University’s research group. The idea to use smart material in orthopaedics was created through Antti’s bachelor thesis. Our professor supported our idea from the beginning, although finding funding was difficult at first. Based on the research results, we established a company in 2012. At present, we have a team of nine people and also receive indispensable advice from our medical advisors,” explains Harri Hallila, CEO and one of the founding members of the company.
Aalto University’s, or then Helsinki University of Technology’s own innovation operations were roused when the newspaper, Tekniikka ja talous, came to interview the people behind SYNOSTE. Now, there is strong faith in the company. The latest news in January 2016 reported that Finnvera and Lifeline Ventures from Finland and Evonik Venture Capital and High-Tech Gründerfonds from Germany have announced they have invested in the company. Help from Finnish business angels has also been notable.
Patient-friendly, reliable, safe
On an annual level, approximately 30,000 patients world-wide receive treatment for legs of different length and need bone lengthening. Unequal length of legs can be congenital or it may be caused by an accident or an illness.
What, then, is more revolutionary in SYNOSTE's bone lengthening method than that of the competitors?
“Current bone lengthening methods are relatively painful and difficult. Our aim is that the patient would have as little restrictions as possible with the implant. The patient should be able to take steps with the leg as early as possible.”
As in other methods, the bone is cut. However, the trick with SYNOSTE's implant is this: the implant is inserted inside the medullary canal and, using wireless energy transfer, the bone is then started to be gradually lengthened.
“The patient does not need devices that are continuously attached to the leg with spikes running through the skin and muscles. Instead, the patient places a device around the leg in the morning and evening. This device utilises electromagnetic induction to transfer the energy needed for the lengthening in to the nail.”
The bone can be stretched approximately 2–7 cm and the whole process usually takes less than a year.
“Once the bone has healed, the implant is removed and nothing extra remains under the skin. The aim is that this method will be more patient-friendly, reliable and safe than other devices on the market. With the decrease in complication incidence, the product is also cost-efficient.”
Sounds promising. Implants that have been introduced to the market at the beginning of the 21st century have had problems with the nails breaking and the fracture ossifying either too quickly or too slowly.
“Our challenge is that the method includes several different materials and new material combinations. There are numerous interdependencies between all projects and also the energy transfer poses challenges,” Mr. Hallila admits.
But entrepreneurship wouldn’t feel like anything without real challenges, as long as there is steady success.
“You can challenge yourself in this work every day. This journey has been quite educational and we have learned while doing. Friendly, skilled colleagues are a source of motivation. However, team spirit needs to be maintained and people management and team thinking invested in. This is not self-evident.”
“It will be interesting to see the actual market potential of the product. In the future, we will be interested in the treatment of malformations of the bone on a wider scale. We have developed a notable application that can change patients’ lives.”