Stories

Repair with soluble polymers

It’s a good start to the year for Polyganics, which makes medical products that dissolve in the body. The company has received the go ahead to storm the European market with a new product. While at the Zernike campus in Groningen, construction has begun on new premises that will provide considerably more space to the company’s offices, laboratory and factory.

Rudy Mareel, directeur van Polyganics. (Foto: Pepijn van den Broeke)

Twenty years ago, Polyganics, a spin-off of the University of Groningen, started with a box full of patents on advanced materials and technology. By cleverly combining this knowledge, the company develops bioresorbable polymers: materials that dissolve in the body. “With these polymers, we develop products for repairing the body, to be used in operations on the sinuses, brain or liver and for damage to the nerves,” explains director Rudy Mareel.

One of the successes of Polyganics is NasoPore, a product that keeps the nasal cavity open after sinus surgery and dissolves within two to three weeks. Much nicer than the commonly used alternative: non-soluble dressings, which fuse together with the wound, making it very painful when they are pulled out of the nose again. Mareel: “We have now sold more than five million NasoPore pieces in Europe, China and the United States. If you were to lay them out in a row, it would take you from here almost to Paris.”

Retaining jobs
After the development of Nasopore, Polyganics sold the license to the multinational Stryker. Because Polyganics – commissioned by Stryker – continued to make the bioresorbable nasal dressings itself, jobs were retained in the region. For highly skilled workers developing the new products as well as in the factory. The company has meanwhile used the proceeds of the license to develop new innovative products. “We also want to market our other products in the same way,” says Mareel.

In order to do this, Polyganics has to expand considerably. “We have reached the limit of how much NasoPore we can manufacture at the current location. So, at the beginning of this year we started building new premises on the Zernike Campus in Groningen. This means that we’re close to the knowledge institutes and other highly innovative companies.” In the new building, everything will stay under one roof: the double-sized R&D lab, the larger factory and the offices. Mareel: “This synergy between development and production is indispensable for developing advanced products.”

Brain surgery
The larger premises immediately offer space for the production of Liqoseal. Polyganics obtained the CE mark at the beginning of January and is therefore allowed to market the ‘brain plaster’ in Europe, which is intended for the prevention of brain fluid leakage after neurosurgical procedures. “Without this application, leakage of cerebral fluid occurs regularly, which can cause infections and thus a lot of misery for the patient,” Mareel explains.

“The trajectory from idea to accession then took five years, which is very short in the world of medical technology. After all, you have to prove with a series of tests that your product works and is safe. We can do this very quickly, because we have a lot of relevant experience in the company, and we also work constructively with our partners both within and outside the region.”

Help from an unexpected angle
And sometimes help comes from an unexpected angle. For example, the FDA, the US regulatory agency, has awarded a ‘Breakthrough Designation’ to another application, for use after liver and pancreatic surgery. This should provide an accelerated route to the market. Mareel: “The liver is a big waste disposal system. After liver surgery, you don’t want leaks to the abdominal cavity. Now there’s nothing that can withstand the liver fluids. Our application does. In fact, it is resistant to bile fluids. The Americans therefore want this product on the market as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the developers are working on innovations for the future. “To this end, we have an ‘incubator’ in which we look for ways to use our patented knowledge. For the controlled dispensing of medicines, for example. Or to print structures, for instance to support the recovery of cartilage in the knee. We work on a very diverse range of ideas, but the basis is always high-quality knowledge, the solubility of our products and the close cooperation with the end users, the doctors.”

More about Polyganics and the new building.