Developing synthetic bone grafts with improved efficacy and reliability

Developing synthetic bone grafts with improved efficacy and reliability

Case study by Queen Mary University of London


Pioneering biomaterials research at QMUL and its technological transfer via the QMUL spin-out ApaTech™, has led to the development of a range of cost-effective synthetic bone graft (SBG)products (ApaPore™, Actifuse™ and Inductigraft™), which safely and effectively stimulate rapid one healing (through precise control of both the SBG chemistry and its porous ‘sponge-like’ structure), which are more reliable than previous ‘gold standard’ autograft procedures.

The successful use of the ApaTech™ range of products has delivered impact on health and welfare by reducing donor site related pain and post-operative infection risks, and improving recovery rates in highly challenging applications such as posterior lumbar fusion spinal surgery, performed to alleviate chronic back pain, as well as delivering significant pain improvement as compared with other SBGs.

queen mary previewTo date, ApaTech™ products have been used to treat 500,000 patients in over 30 countries. In 2010, ApaTech™ employed 160 people in nine countries and was sold to Baxter International for £220 million. By 2012, ApaTech™ products had attained a 10% share of the global SBG market estimated to be worth around $510 million.

This research was initially led by Prof Bonfield and Prof Best (both at QMUL until 1999) then subsequently by Dr Hing who, at the outset of this research, developed the novel production route to deliver hierarchical porosity and ran investigations into biological response to SBG structure and chemistry initially as a PDRA and then as an EPSRC research fellow.

The impact of this research was secured under Prof Bonfields direction, through a progressive policy of protecting intellectual property (IP), which enabled the translation of these research findings into clinical practice through the foundation of ApaTech™.

Subsequent investigations into the optimal level of silicate addition and the mechanisms of action behind structural and chemical mediation of bioactivity, led to work which demonstrated that further optimisation of strut porosity in SBG enables a synthetic graft to stimulate stem cells to differentiate into bone forming cells facilitating faster, more reliable bone regeneration, particularly important in the treatment of patients with impaired bone biology, multi-level spinal fusions or complicated trauma injuries, resulting in the recent UK launch of Inductigraft™ by Baxter International in 2013.

As a result of her involvement in this research and its successful technological transfer Dr Hing has been recognised through a number of prestigious awards for her outstanding contribution to the field.

However, Dr Hing cites the most rewarding aspects of her involvement in this work to have been ‘gaining alternative insights into something I thought I understood through the opportunity to interact with people from very diverse backgrounds’ and ‘actually seeing the material we developed being used in a clinical procedure and subsequently hearing about the positive impact its use had on restoring someone’s quality of life’.

The public relevance of this research was also demonstrated with a piece featuring Dr Hing on the development and use of Actifuse™ bone grafts during an episode of BBC1’s primetime science programme ‘Bang Goes the Theory’.

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