Medartis AG – Healing Through Innovation
Medartis is a medical device company focused on osteosynthesis solutions for the extremities and craniomaxillofacial surgery. We learn how Medartis’s growth is fuelled by innovation, and how its innovation is fuelled by growth.
“We develop tools for supporting the healing of small bone fractures, and we’re a high growth company with a dedication to innovation and technology,” says Christoph Brönnimann, CEO of Medartis AG. “We’re bringing new tech to the market and developing a comprehensive portfolio to allow the surgeon to serve all their patients with one technology and one solution.”
The company has built itself a reputation on the foundation of Swiss-engineered, high-tech innovation. But talking with Brönnimann it is clear that he does not believe it is Medartis’s job to bring out a slightly more efficient or slightly cheaper version of what is already out there. What he is passionate about is using innovation to bring completely new ideas to the table.
The Innovations Surgeons Need
“I think innovation has been the DNA of the company from the very beginning,” Brönnimann tells us. “The company built a portfolio based on the vision of restoring the quality of life of the patient. It was clear from the start that we did not want to have a ‘me-too’ portfolio, but really bring innovation to patients. It’s been built around close collaboration with surgeons, bringing innovation to the market, and spending somewhere between 16-20% of our budget on innovation.”
This commitment to innovation has remained a core part of Medartis’s identity- not just creating new solutions, but creating new solutions in response to the needs of its primary customers.
“It’s strongly supported by a culture of striving towards developing solutions, bringing innovations to surgeons, listening to and understanding the clinical needs of the surgeons and responding with the technology they can use,” Brönnimann says. “It’s one of our biggest levers for growth, building our portfolio and differentiating ourselves in the market. Having a company that is already built around customers, surgeons, patients, and dedicated to growth means innovation is inherently the backbone of the company.”
It is a story that is repeated throughout the history of Medartis AG. The company was founded in 1997 by one Dr H.C. Thomas Straumann. Straumann established the Medartis AG headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. He went on to acquire a small, independent specialist for oral and maxillofacial surgery, allowing him to start developing the Medartis portfolio.
By doing this Straumann laid the cornerstone for the strong position Medartis enjoys today. The company specialised, and still does, in implants for craniomaxillofacial surgery and the extremities. But this was just the beginning.
Five years later the company began establishing its own sales organisation and commenced the development of the sort of next generation of osteosynthesis technologies, developed by experienced innovators, that would make Medartis’s name.
In 2004 Medartis introduced the TriLock® locking technology. This would mark Medartis’s entry into the area of the upper extremities with hand and wrist systems. By 2009 Medartis had brought all its capabilities together in one facility, with administration, development, sales and production all based in the company’s new headquarters in the Stücki Business Park (Basel).
In 2010 the company entered the fields of foot and elbow surgery, in 2011 Medartis introduced cannulated compression screws 2.2 and 3.0. In 2012 it introduced its new arthrodesis system. In 2013 it introduced the orthognathic system and the completion of the elbow system, then in 2016 Medartis began to focus on lower extremities with the introduction of new foot and ankle systems. It is an impressive list of achievements.
That list is born of the fact that Medartis is passionate about developing advanced implant solutions for medical professionals. It does this with the aim of improving patients’ treatment and restoring their quality of life. The company’s pursuit of innovation has led to a strong track record of industry-first products.
“Medartis has been the first company to introduce a variable angle volar locking plate system which is the standard now in the industry, allowing for the angulation of the plate in a fracture, and to better restore the joint surface and reposition the fracture, leading into the comfort of the patient,” says Brönnimann. “We have multiple innovations with what we call the TriLock® and variable locking mechanism, the hexo-drive, the connection between screw and screwdriver. Those innovations make up our portfolio with not only the locking system but also our high-quality instrumentation. Our portfolio is comprehensive with solutions for all areas in operative options for surgeons.”
The technology that Medartis has developed allows for a very low-profile plating system which is perfectly suited for work with the extremities where there is very little soft tissue.
“Having a low-profile system that minimises soft tissue irritation means less pain, and fewer infections,” Brönnimann points out. “We are fully dedicated to extremities.”
Medartis has a global presence, selling directly to all key markets. As important as the company’s expert research and development team are a highly trained, well-informed salesforce with a deep knowledge of the Medartis portfolio and the clinical procedures its products are used in. Medartis’s deep reservoir of expertise is not the only knowledge base it has to draw from, however. The company closely collaborates with the International Bone Research Association, which act as a training partner to Medartis.
“That combination of innovation, our portfolio and a highly trained sales force and international network is a very strong USP,” Brönnimann explains.
The Challenge of Growth
Medartis is fuelled by innovation, and that innovation inspires demand and to meet that demand the company has to grow. But with that growth comes new challenges.
“Growing a company at a rate of over 15% is a challenge in itself,” Brönnimann admits. “You need to develop the organisation, making sure that the company remains flexible and agile to respond to the market need.”
As well as preserving the level of agility that has allowed Medartis to be so responsive so far, Brönnimann also points to the importance of continuing the innovation that Medartis has built its name on. Directing that innovation to where it is most needed is the real challenge.
“You also need to continue to innovate, and we need to have clear priorities because there are so many ideas you can lose focus,” Brönnimann says. “We need to remain focused on what is important, and know what segments of technology we need to devote our energies to.”
The process is ultimately about evolution.
Brönnimann tells us, “We’re growing the organisation, building new capabilities, but as you grow the processes and systems need to grow as well.”
But while growth brings challenges with it, just as innovation fuels growth, growth fuels yet more innovation.
“The growth is what helps you finance the innovation,” says Brönnimann. “We have direct markets with high market shares, we have other markets where we’re still building and growing. We need to grow and the organisations that are incentivised for growth are also supported by an innovation pipeline with new products to introduce to the market over time.”
The result is a powerful partnership between all levels of the business, as Brönnimann explains, “Research and development are working closely to develop the product that allows the sales team to win in the market, completing portfolios, completing gap studies, and bringing in new systems and new indications that all help us grow.”
This is leading to a geographic expansion for Medartis, adding new markets, and then continuing to expand its portfolio.
Weathering the Pandemic
Of course, last year Medartis’s growth was challenged by a medical issue quite different from bone fractures. COVID-19, had a deep impact on Medartis’s sales, particularly during the first lockdown. Virtually every business has felt the harsh consequences of the pandemic, but what is perhaps surprising is how the pandemic hit Medartis’s bottom line.
“Between 30 to 40% of our market is elective, 60-70% is trauma. So obviously all the elective surgeries were postponed, but we also saw a decrease in trauma surgeries as people’s mobility was confined,” Brönnimann recalls. “To understand that you need to know that the trauma cases are mainly falls. The human instinct, if you fall, is to catch yourself on your hands but that means the highest incidents of fractures are in the arms during leisure activities and so on. Those are the key activities by far, it’s not the car accidents anymore.”
One of the unforeseen consequences of lockdown is that if people are not going out, they are less like to fall over.
“Confinement has led to reduced trauma cases,” says Brönnimann. “Some of the medical systems moved towards postponing trauma-related surgeries, so less of the trauma that had happened was treated. In the UK the easier fractures were treated with a cast.”
The first place Medartis went to in order to prepare for the coming crisis was its relationships both up and down the supply chain.
“What happened for us is we went into mitigating our financial risk, assuring our customers, and we were able to maintain business continuity at all times,” Brönnimann says. “This was thanks to the strong partners in our supply chain, which is built on regional partnerships rather than a global supply chain aimed at buying the cheapest raw materials.”
However, a process of continuous innovation has always been a vital part of the Medartis business model, and the company could not afford to bring that pipeline grinding to a halt in the face of the pandemic. To ensure that the pipeline kept moving, Medartis used a time-honoured strategy for addressing medical emergencies- triage.
“We looked into which investments we needed to postpone,” Brönnimann explains. “We focused on all the investments that had a short-to-mid-term recurrence, so we did not compromise new product introductions or investment in the market. We launched all the products we planned, five new systems last year. We achieved the business plans we had set out and continued to invest in our core markets in Australia, the US, Switzerland and Austria.”
Coming out of the other side of the pandemic, there are new challenges for Medartis to address as it makes up for the lost time.
“Once the lockdown measures were lifted, we had a very fast recovery, partly as elective procedures returned but also with the new systems we had in those markets as they opened up again,” Brönnimann points out. “We almost managed to compensate entirely for revenue loss in the second quarter posting 1% growth for the entire year. When the second wave started to hit the impact was not as big, but we’re currently running at 90% of our normal caseload.”
Looking to the future, Brönnimann is planning for Medartis to continue to grow in the areas it excels at. The company will remain dedicated to upper and lower extremities and craniomaxillofacial surgery while continuing to innovate.
“We’re going to continue to add new technologies for our surgeons allowing them not only to have a comprehensive portfolio for surgery but also adding new technology to cover the continuum of care,” Brönnimann explains.
Talking with Brönnimann it is clear that continuum of care is an area he is excited about.
“In place of screws for repairing fractures or corrective operations we’re adding systems for soft tissue management,” he tells us. “That includes nerve tubes for nerve regeneration and we’re also going into small joint replacement, giving additional technologies and portfolio to our surgeons for addressing not only the bone implications but soft tissue management and nerve repairs.”
Throughout all these innovations, developments, and the growth and higher market share they inspire, Medartis will continue to be guided by a clear vision for the business. But more than that, it relies on its people.
“Clarity in our strategic direction is important, but a strong culture is key for the success of the company,” Brönnimann says. “We have a culture of learning and innovating, but also accepting failure and correcting as-needed because that’s part of learning. That will be a strong differentiator moving forward.”