Aiming to make implants safer

Aiming to make implants safer

The first tenant at Birmingham BioHub is a start-up venture from Budapest – NanoTi. Ian Halstead talks to its co-founders, Miklos Weszl and Kristian Toth

Titanium implants, for medical or cosmetic reasons, have become an accepted part of contemporary Western life. They certainly aren’t cheap, but the benefits – whether for dental or orthopaedic uses – are significant, for the physical health or wellbeing of the individual undergoing the procedures. However, as the use of such treatments has soared, so has the incidence of bacterial infections which colonise the implant, requiring significant and expensive multiple-stage surgery to tackle the condition.

It’s been calculated that in the US alone, the cost of such procedures has swelled to $2 billion, not least because there is no off-the-shelf solution. Which is where the talented twosome from Hungary come in - having developed a novel surface treatment technology which both prevents bacteria attaching itself to the implant, and promotes rapid integration between metal and tissue.

“It’s a problem which has grown dramatically. Ten years ago, two to three per cent of
dental implants required later treatment for bacterial growth, but now it’s between 20% and 30%,” says Weszl, the company’s chief technical officer and inventor of the innovative treatment.

“Antibiotics have increasingly lost their effectiveness as a potential solution, because the bacteria is increasingly resistant to them, and the cost of treatment can reach 10,000 euros for an infected dental implant and 80,000 euros for orthopaedic implants, where there is also a risk of limb loss and even death.

“It’s expected that the number of cases will continue to rise rapidly as life expectancy, and the use of implant-based procedures, both increase.”

NanoTi’s solution is to use a proprietary electrochemical process on the implants to kill existing bacteria, and create a biofilm barrier to prevent future bacterial growth.

“We haven’t heard of any competitor trying to treat this problem, other than by using coatings of antibiotics or silver, both of which have serious side-effects. Once we enter the market, we expect to enjoy a competitive advantage for between three and four years,” says Toth, who is the CEO.

“Our prototype equipment is ready, biological tests are underway, we have two prospective customers lined up for a production pilot, and are drafting collaborative agreements with two of the largest manufacturers of dental implants, who are based in France and Hungary.

“Around two-thirds of the implant manufacturing industry is controlled by fewer than ten major players, who charge premium prices and use the most advanced technology. We will focus for customers on the second tier of the market, where companies use similar technology, but at value prices.”

NanoTi has already been awarded an 860,000 euro grant from the European Commission for product development, and has won another 400,000 euros from ‘business angels’ to allow them to enter the market during 2015.

The duo have also filed a provisional patent for the US market, and have commissioned one of the world’s best-known bloggers on medical subjects to raise their profile. So why did NanoTi decide to open a satellite office outside their native country, and why at the Birmingham BioHub?

“We believe that the location of an early-stage startup can determine of its future success, and Birmingham was attractive for us because of the extensive infrastructure that the city could offer for life-science companies,” says Toth.

“The BioHub was like an oasis for us, because it could provide exactly what our start-up needed at its fledgling stage. Our presence there has been a door-opener for us, allowing us to attract seed investors and strategic partners, we also became eligible to apply
for EU grants.”