SFU Technology MBA Andre Wirthmann develops new bone replacement technique

Oct 29, 2012

Beedie School of Business graduate Andre Wirthmann with Elicia Maine, Academic Chair of the MOT MBA program

Growth is often at the heart of a successful business. But Beedie School of Business alumnus Andre Wirthmann had a different type of growth in mind when he wrote the business plan as part of his Management of Technology (MOT) MBA – bone growth.

Wirthmann graduated this month from the MOT MBA program at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, a program that attracts people with scientific or technical backgrounds looking to learn the language of business.

After completing a PhD in Physics at the University of Hamburg, he developed a procedure for bone tissue engineering which he was looking to take to the next level.

“I wanted to turn my research into a business, but with a purely academic background, I was unsure how to go about it,” he says. “When I was invited to apply to the MOT MBA program at SFU I thought it was too good to be true. It fit my ambitions and background perfectly.”

The research has led to Wirthmann receiving the inaugural award for Best MOT MBA Project. The award will be granted each year to the cohort’s best capstone project, an in-depth analysis of an industry problem or opportunity which see students recommend a course of action to address the problem or exploit the opportunity.

For his capstone project, Wirthmann created a business plan for the research, covering the next six years. The award was presented to Wirthmann by Elicia Maine, Academic Director of the MOT MBA program, at the convocation reception for the 2010 MOT MBA cohort.

Wirthmann’s research aims to benefit patients with bone defects who would normally require a conventional bone augmentation procedure. The process takes a small sample of the patient’s tissue and grows it into a larger piece of bone, which is then implanted back into the patient. As a result of the patient’s own cells being used, there is no chance of the patient’s body rejecting the tissue.

Bone is considered to become the second type of tissue which will be engineered, after skin, and before more complex organs like kidneys. The idea was originally the brainchild of Wirthmann’s father, Dr Axel Wirthmann, an oral surgeon in Wirthmann’s native Germany, who specializes in dental implants. Wirthmann has been working on the research along with his father for several years, splitting his time between Hamburg and Vancouver.

Current bone replacement techniques involve either implanting synthetic or bone tissue derived from animals, which can run the risk of inflammatory reaction to the patient and delayed healing time, or an autologous transplant, where bone is taken from another area of the patient’s body.

“The new approach does not have any of these drawbacks” says Wirthmann. “This approach provides the best possible bone augmentation material and the opportunity to heal fractures which do not grow back together, which are difficult or impossible to heal with current technology.

Wirthmann now intends to use his newfound business acumen to commercialize the technology. The process has potential to be applied in many situations, such as bone fractures that do not heal correctly, injuries and accidents that result in bone defects and also in oral surgery.

At present the cost of growing the bone tissue is too high to apply the procedure in hospitals, but Wirthmann is currently looking into several different approaches in order to bring the cost down and allow the technology to be applied in clinical application. The process will save a vast amount of resources which are currently lost due to long healing times and in below-par healing results, which result in increased costs to the healthcare system.

Since finishing the MOT MBA program, the project has taken some big steps, although it is still in the early stages. Wirthmann has recently set up his own company, IncuBone Laboratories Inc. and is in the process of searching for talented scientists and engineers, sourcing funding and setting up partnerships.

“The next step is for me to source funding and bring together researchers from the areas of cell biology, biotechnology, engineering and medicine,” says Wirthmann. “I will need to enable effective communication between all these highly specialized experts and the MOT MBA has given me a solid foundation to build on and provided me with the business knowledge I needed to take the project forward. I feel like it has increased the odds of success significantly.”

The Management of Technology MBA at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business has been designed to prepare both technology industry professionals to handle the business problems faced by their companies, and entrepreneurs in the technology sector seeking to bring a business idea to fruition. For more information, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/mot/

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