Altis biologics is a tech innovation company that specializes in the research and development of osteogenic biomaterials for use in skeletal regeneration therapies in man, simply put bone regeneration. Founder of Altis Biologics, Dr Nicolaas Duneas, holds a PhD from the faculty of medicine at WITS as well as an MBA from WITS University.
Duneas was first introduced to bone regeneration while working at the bone research laboratory at WITS, and it is at this lab where he made ground-breaking discoveries concerning bone regeneration, that is the ability to replace autogenous bone grafting. Traditionally bone is taken from the hip, referred to as the donor site, and donated to another part of the body where bone is needed. After these surgeries, the hip becomes permanently disfigured, some people experience gait disturbance, and others buttock anaesthesia. From the surgeries, there is also the risk of very severe infection and because of the high risk associated to these procedures, high mortality is not unexpected.
By using human donor bone Altis Biologics has licensed the technology for human tissue engineering, however the breakthrough occurred when they discovered and developed a way to humanise pig bone, making it human compatible. They are the first company in the world to humanise pig DBM and to make it injectable and commercially available.
There are many examples of animal bone derivatives across the world, says Duneas, but specific to Altis is the injectable pig DBM with very high levels of activity. The engineering of the tissue is made through their patent recognised in the U.S.A, Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and France. The research began in 1994 and the patent was completed in 2006, this process involved degrees of research as well as multiple levels of pre-clinical and clinical studies which went toward confirming the safety of the product.
A large component of Altis Biologics business strategy was to partner with universities and private industries, in what Duneas describes as a triple helix model of entrepreneurship. The first strand of the triple helix was a partnership with government, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), thereafter a relationship with private sectors and universities was fostered, the latter was the final strand of the helix. Using this model is what led to the success of the business, says Duneas, in the partnership each strand plays a pivotal role where the university is the manufacturer of the human bone graft..
Since 2001 ninety thousand patients have received the bone graft from humanised pig dbm. The breakthrough came with the first successful human implantation in the world which allowed for the company to obtain ethics approval and in 2012 another breakthrough happened when South Africa’s largest medical aid approved this method of bone grafting and since then more than 1000 patients have been implanted with the humanised bone graft.
Pre-clinical studies were conducted in collaboration with universities, and from these studies nine post-graduate degrees have been granted, and through the triple helix Altis Biologics has been able to offer more than 60 internship qualifications in the last 12 years. Previously the South African government, public hospitals and private industry had to rely on imported bone grafts from USA and from Europe, but since Altis Biologics medical advancements they have been able to manufacture the tissue locally consequently saving the government close to a billion in imports.
Duneas says that without The Innovation Hub, an innovation agency of the Gauteng Province, the potential of Altis Biologics would not have been realised. He explains that small tech companies are vulnerable because they are poorly financed and often unable to transcend from academia to commercialization. He emphasises the importance of basic research made possible by the support of academic institutions, however he also highlights that academic institutions can only do so much for entrepreneurs. Speaking of the support afforded to him by The innovation Hub, he credits the company for offering facilities, resources and utilities. Next to this from the company’s relationship with The Innovation Hub they could successfully bridge the innovation chasm, which many tech companies are unable to do which often leads to the demise of these companies. He says that places like The Innovation Hub are vital in the innovation ecosystem in their support for transitioning and commercialization of tech companies.