Complex wounds get Aroa treatment
In 2008 a former vet started a company based around a low-value byproduct from the meat industry.
“It’s kind of nutty when you think about it,” says Aroa Biosurgery founder Brian Ward. “We use a raw material that’s really worth very little and transform it into something that’s incredibly valuable.”
Maybe not that nutty.
Ward had an interest in soft tissue regeneration and was following progress in the science. There were problems – one was access to tissue, another was the potential for disease transmission. When it was recognised that animal-based tissues could provide a way forward if they could be purified in the right way, he realised New Zealand’s isolation meant it could provide a ready supply of disease-free material.
“So I started looking at different tissue types that would be suitable and hired a couple of scientists to help me develop the technology.”
Those scientists were based at Callaghan Innovation’s predecessor organisation, Industrial Research Ltd (IRL).
“So that was really the start. We were based at IRL and as the company grew we just rented more space. Contracting those scientists gave me the chance to go out and find the beginning of what became our development team, so it was a great way to get going and access facilities and people early on.”
Aroa Biosurgery now employs about 270 people, is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and primarily operates in the United States. However it has approvals in 50 other countries and is starting to expand into Europe, the Middle East and Asia with the help of local partners.
As a soft tissue reconstruction company, it develops, manufactures and sells medical devices for procedures in patients who have lost skin or muscle that needs to be replaced and regenerated.
It has developed technology known as extracellular matrix, or ECM, which extracts a layer of tissue from the sheep’s forestomach that is then purified to remove certain components and prevent reactions from the human body.
“Within that tissue we retain a framework that gives it a kind of structure and strength, but we also retain biological molecules that are important signals to cells; they instruct them to undergo this tissue regeneration process.”
Callaghan Innovation certainly helped keep us alive. They not only provided the funding but also some really good people."
Aroa Biosurgery’s tissue has more than 150 signalling molecules and can not be reproduced synthetically. Its benefit also lies in its versatility “Typically these sorts of products have been very expensive and their use rationed by surgeons. We’ve been able to develop very high-quality material which is much more affordable and available to many more patients.”
Ward says almost 6 million Aroa Biosurgery products have been applied to patients.
Intertwined in Aroa Biosurgery’s story are Callaghan Innovation’s scientists, space and grants, which Ward says were incredibly important especially in the company’s early stages when it was running on a shoestring.
“Callaghan Innovation certainly helped keep us alive. They not only provided the funding but also some really good people.” The relationship between the two organisations remains strong and a key part of Aroa Biosurgery’s success.
Aroa Biosurgery is now growing at 60 to 70 percent a year having gone from a technology development company to a development manufacturing firm, with its own purpose-built Auckland facility, selling its products through other companies. Today it has around 50 salespeople in the United States alone.
However, Ward remains convinced that being a New Zealand company has opened doors that may otherwise have remained firmly closed.
“What is really cool about this sort of company is that you end up employing lots of young, talented New Zealanders from around the world. You end up with an awesome workforce and give Kiwis a reason to come home.”
At a glance
- Founded in 2008
- Founded by CEO Brian Ward
- Based in Auckland
- Soft tissue reconstruction company selling medical devices for procedures in patients to replace lost skin or muscle using sheep forestomach
- ASX valuation cap $387.71 million
- Visit website
Callaghan Innovation impact
- Originally based at Callaghan Innovation’s predecessor, Industrial Research Ltd (IRL)
- Contracted IRL scientists to develop product
- Technical product development, product commercialisation
- Growth Grants, RDTI