Startup in the spotlight: ArthroSave

A Utrecht company with its roots in University Medical Center Utrecht has made it possible for knee replacement surgery to be postponed to a later date. Karianne Lindenhovius explains why this is an issue and how ArthroSave has been adopted successfully by various hospitals in the Netherlands.

ArthroSave CEO Karianne Lindenhovius: ‘Many people struggle with knee problems. Osteoarthritis is the bane of their daily lives and can make it a challenge to do such things as walk, cycle and work. In serious cases, the knee joint often needs to be replaced with a prosthesis. Of the people who receive such a prosthesis, 40% are aged under 65. As a prosthesis is subject to wear, many of these people will need to undergo major surgery later in life to have it replaced by a larger model. This is the case for 2535% of all people who receive their first knee prosthesis before the age of 55. Replacement with a much larger joint involves major surgery that is both invasive and expensive. Our solution prevents this.’

A kind of magic, but with demonstrable results

Lindenhovius explains how this works: ‘Contrary to what was previously believed, the cartilage that is affected by osteoarthritis can recover. Scientists at UMC Utrecht discovered that a six-week-long knee joint distraction was enough to let the cartilage recover within one to two years. Distraction involves a controlled separation of the bones to remove friction. This relieves the knee joint to such a degree that the cartilage is able to recover. Given that cartilage damage was widely accepted to be permanent, this may seem like magic. However, patients experience immediate pain relief and UMC Utrecht has been able to demonstrate that the cartilage actually does recover.’

Moving out of academic realm leads to client list of eight hospitals

‘About three years ago, we turned what began as promising UMC Utrecht research results into a business venture. Carrying our research and running a business are two entirely different things. In order for the concept to develop, we had to take it out of the academic realm and step up our marketing and sales efforts dramatically. This has gone very well. Right now, our solution is being used by eight different hospitals.’

Expanding into Europe

As a next step, ArthroSave intends to expand into Europe: ‘We have our sights set on five countries and are currently looking into the possibilities. What we are mainly looking for now is first adopters among the surgeon community, the “believers”. Once they have tried our solution, we are certain they will become enthusiastic ambassadors for us. At the moment, there is often no solution available for younger patients, leading to postponed treatment and months of pain. That is obviously not in the interest of doctors either, so they are happy to have this alternative. Patients are also increasingly asking for knee joint distractions now. The first successful treatment in England took place recently and we have had some experience in Belgium as well. Our next targets are Switzerland and Germany, the latter of which is a sizeable market.’

Growth without losing sight of quality

ArthroSave currently has a staff of seven, but is looking for new funding in order to be able to expand the team. ‘We do want to grow, but not too quickly. Our primary concerns are to ensure ArthroSave’s KneeReviver is used correctly and grow our pool of believers. We would prefer a small number of hospitals that carry out the procedure repeatedly until they have attained perfection to a large number of hospitals that carry it out only a few times a year. Besides, gaining expertise and specialising in this field provide opportunities for hospitals to distinguish themselves. Things have moved quickly in the last year. Around 100 people have now been treated with our product and we have close ties to the hospitals that use it. Moreover, we have received a great deal of feedback from operating theatres, allowing us to develop and improve the product further. In the near future, we will hold our first key user meeting to look ahead to what else we can do for Dutch patients.’

Winner of the Academic Startup Competition

Lindenhovius: ‘We are tremendously proud to be among the 10 winners of the Academic Startup Competition. This will help us scale up internationally, as it gives us a podium and lets us accompany trade missions. Better still: we have been invited to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit to present ourselves to investors and other interested parties and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy has given us a voucher to take part in an incubator programme in Silicon Valley. Naturally, we were thrilled.’

The Academic Startup Competition

The Academic Startup Competition challenges universities and research institutions
to nominate their best spin-off startups for a position among the top 10 Dutch scientific breakthroughs. 

Academic startups are where science and enterprise join forces. The competition contributes to the Netherlands’ efforts to better convert scientific excellence into societal impact. The 10 best academic startups are given a chance to present themselves at the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).