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Customer story

Aroa Biosurgery: Regenerative healing unlocked, thanks to sheep

This article was published on Sep 9, 2019, 11:38 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Aroa Biosurgery has made serious inroads in the massive US healthcare market after successfully commercialising its biomaterials technology with the help of Callaghan Innovation.

What's in this article

    At a glance

    • Biomaterials company Aroa Biosurgery’s technology uses a traditionally low-value natural raw material to help make high-value, high-quality products for human healthcare applications.
    • With help from Callaghan Innovation, Aroa has been able to undertake a number of R&D projects that has led to the development of products that improve patient outcomes especially in wound care.
    • With traction gaining in the US, the now 100+ employee company is looking to more complex, high-value products that would see it become a major player in soft tissue repair. 

    Honing in on the healing properties of sheep

    New Zealand and sheep are pretty synonymous. Well, enter another Kiwi company whose success is linked to them too, this time in a way a little less common.

    Aroa Biosurgery develops and manufactures high-tech healthcare products based on healing properties found in a sheep’s stomach (well, the forestomach to be exact). These products help surgeons and clinicians repair serious soft tissue injuries like diabetic ulcers.

    Founded back in 2008, seed funding provided the path to beginning product development, and in 2010, the company got its breakthrough with its first Food & Drug Administration for its wound care technology, which it then licensed to US-based medical products firm Hollister for launch in 2013. 

    Then the following year Aroa gained FDA approval for its first commercial surgical product – jointly developed with another US partner, TELA Bio – which launched in 2016.

    Aligning with the right partners

    With Aroa Biosurgery Founder and Chief Executive Officer Dr Brian Ward not a scientist, Aroa had to start its product development process by renting a lab space at an Industrial Research Limited (IRL) facility (now part of Callaghan Innovation), and contracting scientists from the organisation to do the initial work.

    “That was incredibly helpful. Firstly, it gave us the flexibility to commit to development activity to get us started, and secondly it allowed us to put our money into areas that would make us successful, rather than sinking it into physical assets,” says Ward.

    The company has also taken advantage of a number of other available resources along the way, including using Callaghan Innovation’s R&D Experience and Career Grants, to help undertake specific R&D projects.

    Mark Robinson, Callaghan Innovation Health and Digital Business Innovation Advisor, says in Aroa the stars of smart science, strong leadership and commercial nous have aligned.

    “It’s one thing to have smart science and develop a great product, but to be successful in healthcare you also have to understand your market. Aroa has always had its eye on not just what’s happening in the lab, but what’s happening with surgeons and other end users.”

    Dr Brian Ward, Aroa Biosurgery

    Dr Brian Ward, Aroa Biosurgery

    US market success, a long time in the making

    Aroa has come a long way since it started out with just Ward and a PhD student. Today it has over 100 employees and is making serious progress in the US, where it has 30 sales staff.

    Having bought back the rights to its technology for use in wound healing from Hollister, Aroa has formed a joint sales venture with another US-based wound care company to sell direct to its customers. An exciting development, this has amongst other things helped expose opportunities for new products for Aroa.

    As well, Aroa has gained a CE mark (which proves products meet the essential requirements of all relevant European Medical Device Directives) giving it access to countries within the European Union for its Endoform Natural wound care solution.

    The company’s focus now is on continuing to develop increasingly sophisticated tissue repair products both with its surgical partner, and on its own.

    “We’re evolving the company towards much more novel, much more complex and higher-value products over time,” says Ward.

    “Ultimately we see an opportunity to develop a very large, successful tissue repair company spanning a number of different specialties – that’s our goal.”

    Aroa Case Study Biotech

    [James Agnew]

    Aroa is a medical device company. Our core technology is a piece of biologic tissue. Now that tissue comes from, funnily enough, the stomach of a sheep. This piece of tissue is a scaffold that promotes soft tissue reconstruction, so this piece of tissue is sending out signals to the human cells to say "Hey, come jump on me and grow on me".

    Callaghan has provided an immense support over the years, right from inception to up to this day. So, for instance, back at the start, we were operating out of the Callaghan facility, and the great thing is that, you know, they really showed an interest in what we were doing and what the business is all about. And that made a huge difference, there was a lot of energy, there was a lot of enthusiasm. A lot of people think of scientists as sort of in the laboratory, doing funny tests and growing things and, you know doing experiments, but it's interesting that it's not that case as there's a lot of work behind the scene and documentation, and you know, validation of all of your results and processes, ect. And I really thing that the professionalism and the structure that Callaghan had in place by providing, you know, consultative work and collaboration with us, really provided, you know, provided the structure here in our business to be set up really well for when we did meet those regulatory hurdles.

    And I mean without that and, combined with, obviously, the investment that we've had from people here in New Zealand, I think together we would not be here today if it wasn't for Callaghan who we see as a strategic investor in the business.

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