JRI Orthopaedics Ltd – Medical Device Company
50 years ago, a young surgeon discovered a new way of doing orthopaedic implants, today the company he founded his working with a leading international company to bring innovative new products to the world.
The story of JRI Orthopaedics is also a story about medical history. It begins with a Mr Furlong, an orthopaedic surgeon at St Thomas’s Hospital and the youngest consultant there.
“Mr Furlong was an intelligent person, always looking for new and innovative opportunities,” says Jerry Agass, the MD of JRI Orthopaedics. “50 years ago, were the early days of orthopaedic implants. At that time all implants were cemented into place. There were many problems with implants loosening over time and micro-cracks developing in the cement.”
This was all destined to change when Furlong became aware of doctors treating damaged skulls in America using stainless steel plates coated in a substance called hydroxyapatite, a ceramic that is the same material as a bone.
“Furlong had the idea of coating hip implants in this substance, he realised that in this way you could create a biological fixation rather than a cemented one,” Agass explains. “He developed and implanted the first hydroxyapatite hip implant in the world 35 years ago. Because it is coated in the same material as bone, the bone actually grows into the implant. This process happens within weeks. It is a fantastic biological fixation and a product that could be used for life rather than implants that could only be used for 10 or 12 years. This implant changed everything.”
This year, JRI Orthopaedics, the company Furlong founded, is enjoying its 50th anniversary.
“We’ve got a number of events planned,” Agass says. “The big launch will be an independent scientific conference that we are sponsoring with AK Medical and will be held on 4th October. It is called Pathways Conference and will be held on an annual basis. “We will take the opportunity at the conference to have a short celebration of our 50th anniversary before spending the majority of the conference concentrating on new developments within orthopaedics”.
JRI Orthopaedics is the spiritual home of hydroxyapatite coating.
“We still manufacture the original product that we developed 35 years ago, and it is still one of the best performing products on the market,” Agass tells us. “We’ve gone on and launched other products using the hydroxyapatite coating of the original Furlong product. We have got a fantastic product portfolio of products. Additionally, we are a small organisation, we have about 110 employees, and we are competing in a market with giant global companies. What we can offer is being flexible, very responsive. Our customers know who we are and they get a great service. We also manufacture everything in the UK, so we won’t get any shortages related to issues such as Brexit.”
However, there are other challenges for JRI to negotiate, particularly with a new wave of regulatory changes hitting the industry.
“The biggest challenge we’re currently facing is the new changes with the regulations in the medical device sector,” Agass tells us. “They’re changing from the Medical Device Directives to the Medical Device Regulations I agree they are there to protect patients, so I understand where they’re coming from, but the cost of implementing these changes, including changes to clinical testing, is going to be a huge cost to bear, and I fear that it will restrict the innovation within the orthopaedic market. We have to demonstrate our products are clinically safe, collecting data from wherever our products are used.”
Fortunately, JRI Orthopaedic has developed strong relationships that allow them to continue to innovate on a global scale while meeting their regulatory obligations.
“We were acquired by AK Medical about 18 months ago. They are an orthopaedic medical device company in Beijing,” Agass explains. “We’ve been working with them since 2014, when we had identified AK Medical as the company who would distribute our products. In 2013 we started to register our products in China and at the same time we also did work looking for all the companies that could distribute our products in China, and we found AK Medical. They agreed to distribute our products and through further discussions they talked to us about manufacturing some of their products for the Chinese market. It was a natural progression when they acquired us back in March 2018. They are the largest orthopaedic company by volume in China and they’ve had fantastic success achieving 30% growth year on year for the last 10 years.”
While AK Medical gives them access to new resources and markets, it does not interfere with JRI Orthopaedics’ autonomy. It is also allowing them to enter exciting new fields, pushing the technological boundaries of medicine just as Furlong did all those years ago.
“We remain an independent company within the UK and our international markets but now we can work closely with AK Medical and we’re working on a couple of new products, more global products,” Agass says. “We’re also actively looking at getting involved in automation and robot-assisted surgeries. We’re hoping to design and develop our own robotic system, which will probably take two or three years and then there are the clinical tests, but that is exciting work.”
So, we return to the question Agass is asking on the 50th anniversary of the birth of his company. How will the company go forward? They are entering new markets, in terms of technology, and countries around the world. But at the same time, JRI is sticking close to its roots.
“In the future, we will continue to grow and develop and build the market aboard and within the UK,” Agass says. “The UK is the home of JRI and our products and we want to maintain the brand strength here that gives us the springboard to continue to grow our products and sell them overseas.”