Vertera Spine is a medical device company focused on minimally invasive technologies for spine surgery. Its product offerings are primarily indicated for spinal fusion. The company had developed a method with which to create a porous surface texture atop a polyetheretherketone (PEEK) implant. Since a primary criticism of the use of PEEK for spinal implants is the development of a fibrous tissue capsule that surrounds the implant, preventing an effective integration with adjacent vertebrae, the porous surface promotes osseointegration.
Specifically, according to Dr. Chris Lee, Vertera Spine’s CEO, in an interview conducted with Orthopedic Design & Technology, “This porous structure promotes bone formation on the cellular level and allows for tissue infiltration into the pores, effectively creating a strong mechanical interlock between implant and bone, to ensure good implant stability and fusion.”
I met Dr. Lee at the 2016 North American Spine Society (NASS) annual meeting, which was my first experience attending the event. At the time, I was still learning more about primary issues affecting the spine technology industry, the debate over PEEK vs. titanium for spinal implants, and growth in the use of biologics. Dr. Lee was my very first appointment at the event, and to say I was impressed with the technology he presented would be an understatement. I remember thinking how odd it was to learn of such a fantastic innovation in a small 10x10 booth, hidden away near the end of an aisle, while the industry’s leading firms dominated the attention of attendees with enormous booths and attractive displays of their products. Don’t get me wrong; that attention is certainly warranted and those companies have been successful with their offerings, but I found myself wondering if this company lacked the ability to gain the necessary attention of those who could truly make a difference for patients through this technology.
I asked Dr. Lee if he was open to licensing the proprietary process to other, more established orthopedic device firms as I thought that would be a great way to get it into the market in a quicker and more widespread manner. He told me, “We develop our own implants and perform the porous PEEK Scoria processing for our implants in-house. That said, we have extensive collaborations with professors at Duke University, Georgia Tech, Emory University, and Colorado State University, along with surgeons across the country, to study our porous PEEK implants and begin developing our pipeline products.” A reasonable response for a company seeking to build a product portfolio and truly become a player in the spine implant market, but admittedly, a part of me was disappointed to hear this as I knew this process could take years before the company’s products would really see substantial market penetration.
Almost a year later and I heard the news of NuVasive’s latest purchase. Vertera Spine’s technology should now hopefully get the research dollars necessary to advance it into other orthopedic areas, such as using it in joint replacements, as Dr. Lee mentioned in the aforementioned interview. More immediately, however, the technology can perhaps get into the hands of surgeons to help patients with what appears to be a differentiator compared to other PEEK implant offerings already on the market.
So, hearty congratulations to Dr. Lee and his entire team at Vertera Spine for a job well done on the development of this technology and moving it along far enough to attract the attention of NuVasive. I’m excited to see what comes of the porous PEEK innovation in the coming months and years, and I’ll be curious to see if the new owner has the technology on display at NASS in November.
In the meantime, be sure to catch up on other developments in the spine sector highlighted in the feature by managing editor Michael Barbella.