John Sigurdsson, President and CEO
Sveinn Sölvason, CFO
Egill Jónsson, EVP of Manufacturing and Operations
Gudjon G. Karason, EVP of Clinics
Margrét Lára Friðriksdóttir, EVP of Human Resources and Corporate Strategy
Kim de Roy, EVP of Research and Development
Ólafur Gylfason, EVP of Sales & Marketing
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 2,948
GLOBAL HEADQUARTERS: Reykjavik, Iceland
The Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is one of the most brutal events in international triathlon competition. Contenders begin the grueling race with a nearly four-kilometer swim in the icy waters off Norway. They then bike over five mountain passes, traversing 180 kilometers of rugged terrain littered with demanding climbs and breakneck descents. A 42.2-kilometer run through rocky, mountainous terrain completes the triathlon, including scaling 1,700 meters up the aptly named “Zombie Hill.” The finish line is located 6,178 feet above sea level at the summit of Norway’s Mount Gaustatoppen. Surely a near-impossible feat for even the fittest, most daring athletes.
Team Össur member Mohamed (Mo) Lahna, however, was able to complete the course in 15 hours, 52 minutes, and 45 seconds last year. This placed him 156th in competition, ranking him among the elite finishers. Mo was also the first amputee in the contest’s history to complete the course.
Born with proximal femoral focal deficiency in the right leg, Mo was essentially left without a femur. His lower leg pretty much begins at the hip, rendering him truly “one-legged” when it comes to cycling or running. Equipped with Össur’s Flex-Run—a prosthetic foot engineered for running and cycling—he was also able to earn a bronze medal for his home country of Morocco in the paratriathlon’s debut at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Össur’s Flex-Run prosthesis features a long toe lever and efficient energy return, and a partnership with Nike furnished the foot with top-of-the-line traction and sole technologies. With Flex-Run, Transfemoral and Transtibial users can participate in high impact activities like recreational jogging, trail running, distance running, and—if you have Mo’s mettle—triathlons.
“It’s not every day you get a shot at making the first-ever triathlon event in the Paralympics, so I wanted to make it count,” Mo said in an interview with the Challenged Athletes Foundation. “Going to the 2016 Rio Paralympics was an unbelievable experience and after all the sacrifice my family and I had made, I knew I couldn’t go home empty handed. I am so proud to have stood on the podium, earning my Bronze medal that day.”
With $285 million in global fiscal 2017 sales (ended Dec. 31), prosthetics make up almost precisely half of Iceland-based Össur’s $569 million total revenue. The portfolio ranges from technologies to support less active people struggling to maintain mobility to those that enable especially active people to participate in high-impact athletics or endeavors. The company’s artificial limbs and related products for amputees are composed of a broad array of mechanical lower extremity prosthetics, as well as bionic solutions—microprocessor controlled knees, hands, and feet.
Össur’s $569 million of 2017 revenue—a respectable 9 percent bump over the prior year—and the prosthetics segment especially rests on the increasing economic value of prosthetics. The company believes with an aging population emerging that seeks to be more active, the population of elderly amputees is forecasted to follow similar trends.
“Still relatively few elderly amputees receive a prosthetic solution and even fewer a bionic solution,” CEO John Sigurdsson proclaimed in his letter to shareholders in the company’s 2017 annual report. “This is despite recent studies clearly demonstrating the economic benefit of bionic solutions and their proven capability to improve the quality of life for amputees. It is therefore not economical to withhold bionics from patients. This is an area where Össur aims to support industry developments in the future by providing effective, powered, intelligent, and energy-efficient prosthetic solutions for low active amputees.”
The RHEO KNEE, a microprocessor-controlled prosthetic knee boasting advanced features like auto adaptive real-time stance and swing control, dependable swing initiation on all surfaces, and automatic stumble recovery, was the key growth driver in both the EMEA and Americas regions. Over 30 new prosthetic products were introduced to the market in 2017, including new versions of the RHEO KNEE.
One such version surfaced with last February’s launch of RHEO KNEE XC. The knee was engineered to have a quick learning curve in the rehab setting via features that make it easier for everyday users—easy walking, automatic cycling recognition, stepping over objects, leg-over-leg stair ascent, and jogging. Rather than the traditional hydraulic systems, RHEO KNEE XC utilizes magnetorheological fluid, a smart fluid that changes viscosity when subjected to a magnetic field. This equips it with stumble recovery, activity recognition, and obstacle avoidance. It also comes with the firm’s Logic software, which lets clinicians adjust user functionality and access activity reports, and supplies the user with a library of exercises in both the rehab and home settings.
Össur released two mechanical feet within its Pro-Flex line last September. Launched in 2016, the Pro-Flex foot combines a 93 percent increase in peak ankle power with an 82 percent increase in range of ankle motion to reduce sound-side loads by 11 percent, compared to a conventional energy storing and return foot.
Pro-Flex XC Torsion and Pro-Flex LP Torsion, as their names suggest, augment the artificial foot with torsion capabilities. According to a 2016 study in Prosthetics and Orthotics International, prosthetic feet with torsion help prevent movement between the socket and residual limb, reducing shear stress on the residual limb. Additionally, a strong coupling between limb and socket gives the user more control over their prosthesis, which improves comfort and residual limb health.
Össur also reinforced its prosthetics business through two acquisitions made in 2016 that were successfully integrated last year. Buying U.K.-based Touch Bionics entered the firm into the upper limb prosthetic market. The first company to develop an electrically powered prosthetic hand with five independently powered fingers, Touch Bionics added electric prosthetic hands and fingers as well as passive silicone prostheses closely matching the wearer’s natural appearance to Össur’s portfolio. The firm completed its integration of German mechanical lower limb prosthetic components maker Medi Prosthetics last January. Thanks to the addition of Medi Prosthetics, customers in the United States and Canada will have access to a broader range of prosthetic knees and legs, as well as liners and sleeves.
The other half of Össur’s business—bracing and supports—deals in products to stabilize joints and improve healing for those recovering from fractures, ligament injuries, or an operation, as well as bracing for osteoarthritis (OA) patients. With $285 million in fiscal 2017 proceeds, the segment rose a slight 2 percent over the prior year. Growth was chiefly provoked by strong Unloader One sales in the EMEA region. However, performance was negatively impacted in the Americas due to a sales decline in Össur’s distribution companies. The operational challenges, according to the company, were due to internal restructuring efforts. Those distribution companies account for about 8 percent of global bracing and supports sales.
The Miami LSO (lumbar sacral orthosis) brace hit the market last September. It utilizes a unique double pulley system with powerful leverage, as well as a length-adjustable pulley cord for tailored placement and compression. Miami LSO is meant for patients requiring gross immobilization of the trunk in the lumbar region due to stable non-displaced spinal fractures; spinal stenosis; herniated disks and degenerative spinal pathologies; spondylolysis; and spondylolisthesis. Clinicians can select either universal posterior panels for Miami LSO or take a modular, customized approach addressing comfort and clinical necessity.
Össur pioneered OA bracing by launching the Unloader brace almost three decades ago. Intended for those suffering from mild to moderate knee OA or degenerative meniscal tear pain, it has proven instrumental in reducing pain, improving function, and decreasing the use of pain medication.
The Unloader One Lite brace was released last October. It is ideal for younger, more physically active patients beginning to experience early knee OA and degenerative meniscal tear symptoms. Unloader One Lite features a lower-profile design, weighing six ounces less than the classic Unloader One brace. It is the first unloading brace clinically proven to be effective for degenerative meniscal tears, a pre-OA condition. In order to reduce pain and improve function, it provides unloading—reduced stress—for the affected compartment.
Last October, Össur and Comau, a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles involved in the industrial automation field, initiated a joint venture to claim a majority share of BioRobotics Institute spinoff Iuvo. Founded in 2015, Iuvo’s objective is to create wearable, intelligent, and active tools for a better quality of life. The venture’s main initial priority is to research, develop, and eventually commercialize robotic exoskeletons that can improve both quality of life for industrial and service workers as well as patients needing improved mobility.
“This joint venture represents a key step toward the creation of wearable robotic exoskeletons that can enhance human mobility and quality of life,” Comau CEO Mauro Fenzi told Robotics and Automation News. “By uniting the know-how and enabling technologies of the various partners, we are in a unique position to extend the use of robotics beyond manufacturing and toward a truly progressive global reality. I believe the differentiating factor of a project like IUVO is the combination of Comau’s automation skills and Össur’s extensive experience in bionics and bracing to enable the production of products, such as the exoskeletons, and to be able to demonstrate the benefits of robotics.”