Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron Announces Creation of First Company, APTO Orthopaedics

Culture of innovation accelerates development of non-invasive device to treat spinal deformities in children

AKRON, Ohio, January 12, 2012 – Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron (ABIA) announced today the formation of APTO Orthopaedics, the first medical device company created out of the Institute. ABIA’s Dr. Steve Fening and Akron Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Todd Ritzman co-founded the company to improve treatment for widespread forms of musculoskeletal disease.

The company’s first device is designed to improve the care of children with spinal deformities by eliminating the need for repetitive, painful and costly surgeries. Under traditional care, pediatric patients who are still growing require surgery up to twice a year to adjust implants to realign and lengthen their growing spine. APTO is collaborating with ABIA and researchers at The University of Akron and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) to develop a device that once implanted, could be adjusted from outside the body, eliminating the need for repetitive invasive surgeries.

“APTO Orthopaedics is a testament to the culture of innovation ABIA, its partners and the City of Akron have built. This culture is generating an ever-increasing pace of research and development that serves our region well,” said Dr. Frank L. Douglas, president and CEO of ABIA, a partnership formed in 2008 among Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General Health System, Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), Summa Health System, The University of Akron and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “APTO represents what ABIA was formed to do: to fill clinical needs with innovative patient-centered products that can be commercialized to help fuel the Akron economy.

“It was around this time last year that we were honored by the U.S. Department of Commerce with their National i6 Innovation Challenge award for the supercharged commercialization ecosystem we are creating in Akron. Today, we celebrate the realization of that system,” Dr. Douglas said.

The inspiration  for Apto’s technology occurred after Dr. Fening, ABIA’s Director of Orthopaedic Devices, learned of the typical treatment regimen for early onset pediatric scoliosis while attending a conference. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Fening met with Dr. Ritzman, who is an expert in pediatric orthopaedic spine care, and spent time observing scoliosis surgery.  The pair then worked on ways to noninvasively adjust the spinal fixation system.

Dr. Ritzman, who is an active ABIA participant, identified the need for non-invasive alternatives during an early ABIA Synergy Seminar, a monthly gathering that allows those who have identified problems and possible solutions to work on innovative and patient-centered solutions with other like-minded researchers.

“Upon meeting, we immediately started thinking of possible solutions. There was a technology, actually from a non-medical application that I had learned of, that used rotating magnets to turn a screw and we worked to explore its merits in a clinical setting,” said Dr. Fening. “The work between a clinician and an engineer is a typical example of what we refer to as partnered innovation. Without the partnership between Todd and I, this idea would have gone nowhere.”

Within months, and with the guidance of ABIA, Drs. Fening and Ritzman developed the idea further and created a device that they believe has the potential to revolutionize the care of young children with spinal deformity.

“Today’s gold standard for correction of spinal deformity requires us to operate on pediatric patients nearly every six months to simultaneously achieve control of their spinal deformity and encourage spinal growth,” Dr. Ritzman said.  “This technology would allow surgeons to lengthen the spinal implants in an incision-less manner that would enable reduction in the expense, trauma and risk that accompany current procedures and could prove invaluable to these patients, and to their families.”

An Akron native, Dr. Ritzman said the partnerships being developed in the Greater Akron community are invaluable to biomedical device development.

“Without the teamwork among institutions, this effort likely would not have happened,” he said. “Certainly, it would have taken a great deal longer to take off.”

The technology was introduced to the ABIA’s Medical Device Development Center (MDDC) in late 2010, and has progressed quickly. In just a year, APTO was formed and a preliminary patent was filed.

“APTO Orthopaedics is a perfect example of how the ABIA process is meant to work,” said Thom Olmstead, Director of Technology Assessment and Business Development at MDDC. “ABIA was created to bring the cutting-edge knowledge and resources of Akron institutions together to accelerate the commercialization of great ideas, and to create new ventures for the Akron economy.”

MDDC is one of ABIA’s Centers of Innovation, which helps products along the course of technology development with processes including engineering design, product development, prototyping, patenting and feasibility testing.

Musculoskeletal disease is a leading cause of disability across the country. It accounts for more than 50 percent of all chronic conditions for people over 50 years of age. U.S. spinal implants have a $6.8 billion market, 1.1 million procedures completed annually. While APTO’s initial focus is on pediatric patients, the technology has the potential to become a platform technology, providing implants that are non-invasively adjustable or adaptable for both pediatric and adult patients.


About the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron
Based in Akron, Ohio, the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron—a unique collaboration of Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General Health System, Northeast Ohio Medical University, Summa Health System, The University of Akron and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation —is focused on patient-centered innovation and commercialization at the intersection of biomaterials and medicine.  The institute is focused on being a global leader in discovering, developing and commercializing biomaterials solutions for patients with orthopaedic and wound healing problems, nationally distinct in improving health outcomes with a focus on the medically underserved, and recognized for the use of simulation technologies to improve the education of the healthcare team.