Technology at the cutting edge of patients’ needs

Alex Gutteridge and Hannah Longbottom are the husband and wife team behind Innovate Orthopaedics
Alex Gutteridge and Hannah Longbottom are the husband and wife team behind Innovate Orthopaedics

Listening to the daily problems faced by surgeons led this Huddersfield-based company to develop dynamic and cost effective new solutions for the health sector

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By Mick Cowley

When the next celebrity Premier League footballer falls to the floor clutching his knee with torn ligaments, he may well end up thanking a husband and wife run orthopaedics design and development business in Huddersfield for helping his surgeon repair the damage more effectively.

For Alex Gutteridge and Hannah Longbottom have worked directly with surgeons to develop a new titanium screw which is used to reconstruct knee ligaments following a sports injury.

It has won the green light from leading UK orthopaedic surgeons and is now used in many of the UK’s leading hospitals including London’s Fortuis Clinic and Manchester’s BMI Alexandra Hospital in the private sector, and Guy’s and St Thomas’, the world-famous NHS teaching hospital.

The screw will become the flagship product for Innovate Orthopaedics both in the UK and lead their export drive to establish them as an international company.

With 20 years in the healthcare field between them, the husband and wife team have an unrivalled knowledge of the market they have now entered commercially and the issues they will have to overcome to be successful.

Hannah graduated with a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University before heading off to undertake a range of roles in the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare, including sales and marketing, business development and finance, and even banking experience working for Rothschilds. As such, she brings the commercial edge to the partnership.

Meanwhile Alex, who had studied sports science, spent a decade working for Smith and Nephew’s sports medicine division – where he met Hannah – which brought him into regular contact with surgeons across the country.

It was through hearing the surgeons’ day to day surgical problems that Innovate Orthopaedics was born. Alex saw the need for a small dynamic company, which could work directly with surgeons to address the problems they faced. A company that could analyse the issue and come up with solutions quickly and, just as important to the health sector, offer a cost-effective solution.

Inserting screws may not seem to be that critical but when you are an orthopaedic surgeon performing several ligament repair procedures a day, the time and pressure needed to insert the screws becomes highly important. These operations typically involve repairing the damage using a hamstring (we have spares) which are screwed into place. A screw which is easier to insert means less force is needed and reduces the chance of damage to the hamstring. It also means less fatigue for the surgeon.

Nor is the issue of torn ligaments confined to elite athletes but to all people who play sport including all the hordes of weekend warriors who decide to kick a ball around for fun only to find it turns into a painful experience.

It is currently estimated that there are 30,000 sports related torn ligament injuries in the UK alone each year.

That’s why the titanium screw developed by Innovate Orthopaedics will become their flagship product, with estimates that it will provide them with a turnover of £300,000 this year.

Yet when Alex first came home and discussed the idea of setting up the company with Hannah after discussions with surgeons, it brought the response “Don’t be so ridiculous”, prompted by the fact that it would mean them both giving up well paid jobs and heading into the unknown.

Soon afterwards, Hannah found herself working as Head of Life Sciences for inward investment for UKTI, now DIT. It was this role in helping companies establish themselves here – and seeing the range of support available – that finally brought her round to Alex’s way of thinking.

Three years ago, Innovate Orthopaedics was born and work on the breakthrough titanium screw began in earnest. First off, they were aware they needed a prototype screw that the surgeons could try out on a model. Once they had agreed on the concept, they had to call on both specialist design engineers – in this case the Medical Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and a manufacturer, SPM, both of whom happened to be in Sheffield.

It was important to both Hannah and Alex that their products should carry the ‘Made in Britain’ official marque which denotes world class manufacturing as demanded by the discerning medical device/orthopaedics marketplace.

Understandably, the first three months were taken up in designing the product. The rest of the year though was given over to getting the all-important CE approval.

Now though the sky is the limit as they are about to start selling to New Zealand through a distributor, giving them their first foothold in a global market for the screws which is estimated to be worth well over $1bn.

Meanwhile Hannah is currently on maternity leave, having given birth to daughter Sophie nine months ago, but she still finds time to keep a commercial grip on the business ensuring organic growth rather than risk moving too fast.

“I have had my baby and Alex has had his,” says Hannah.

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Achieving balance between ambition and caution

As Hannah Longbottom had once worked for UKTI, now DIT, it helped focus her mind on the potential for exporting for Innovate Orthopaedics.

That’s why they are about to complete their first overseas order to New Zealand and are currently looking for a distributor for Australia, having decided to focus on English-speaking countries for the first product wave.

Both she and her husband Alex have been in regular contact with Medilink – in particular Tom Elliott, the life sciences Regional Sector Specialist – who handles exporting for the Yorkshire and Humberside Region on behalf of DIT. Innovate Orthopaedics have recently picked up a Medilink award for their achievements in the life sciences sector.

“I knew most of these guys already through working for UKTI, so I am well aware of the significant amount of help they can give a company looking to export,” says Hannah. “So we went to them straight off.”

Both Hannah and Alex are well aware that the world is truly a global market when it comes to the orthopaedics sector with surgeons from many countries regularly getting together and talking to one another at international conferences. In fact, it was a surgeon from New Zealand who first approached them after hearing about the breakthrough titanium screw.

“So, we saw the obvious potential in the export market but it was little things such as how we sent the screws abroad, do we simply shove them in an envelope and post them or what? Similarly the subjects of documentation and regulations were a concern on which DIT had ready answers.”

As far as sending them abroad, the answer was simple – air freight. But even that posed a problem as the screws would necessarily have to be in holds at sub zero temperatures. This, in turn, meant going back to testing the reaction of the products to such conditions and inevitably a few months delay.

However, Innovate Orthopaedics realise that exports may well be the key to future success – with Alex recently taking part in a trade mission to the Arab Health Showcase.

“We have to be careful about growing too fast as many companies fail in the first few years by over extending themselves,” says Hannah. “But exporting is very much part of our corporate plan.”