15-06-2020 life sciences & health

Demcon invests in Mellon Medical’s surgical instrument


Suturing reinvented for better quality of life
Abdominal wall closure after surgery is a time-consuming and critical job. In the conventional method – with needle holder, tweezers, and suture – the surgeon literally and figuratively has his hands full. The faster and more precise the suturing, the better the result, and for the patient that translates into a better quality of life after the procedure. Dutch company Mellon Medical has devised an instrument for fast and precise suturing using one hand: the Switch suturing device. Contact with technology developer and producer Demcon has resulted in a collaboration for the further development of the device and subsequent production. Now Demcon is also taking part in a new investment round, which provides Mellon Medical with the capital needed for entering the medical market with the Switch. “Surgeons worldwide are willing to learn this technique.”

Closing the abdominal wall requires supreme concentration from the surgeon, made more challenging as it has to be done just after performing major surgery. Handling a needle holder and tweezers, with which a semicircular needle is transferred, requires great manual dexterity using both hands. In this way the surgeon applies what are known as “big bites”: sutures that are one centimeter apart. Research led by Erasmus MC, published in top medical science journal The Lancet, has shown that “finer” suturing, with “small bites” five to seven millimeters apart, yields better results. It results in fewer complications – for example, the number of incisional hernias is halved. As a result, the number of repairs required is drastically reduced, and an estimated $2 billion a year in healthcare costs can be saved in the US alone.

Precision and quality
In the conventional way, however, applying “small bites” is difficult. Mellon Medical has come up with a solution: the Switch suturing device. This instrument has two jaws that the surgeon can move toward each other to automatically transfer a straight needle from one jaw to the other using only one hand. The surgeon then has their second hand free to present the tissue to be sutured. This improves the precision and thus the quality of the suture. In addition, the surgeon can suture twice as fast this way. Initial experiences were already very positive, declares Prof. Hans Jeekel, emeritus professor of surgery at Erasmus MC and co-author of the 2015 Lancet article. “At Erasmus MC, highly experienced surgeons have tested this instrument on patients for closing the abdominal wall. Their findings showed that this smooth instrument, even in the prototype phase, can contribute to a simple and precise application of the ‘small bites’ technique, which we think is essential for surgeons around the world to adopt over the coming years.”

Expert review
After Mellon developed the first design, they called in Demcon for an expert review in 2019. The review covered: whether the design is robust, what needs to be changed for use in general surgery (after first having sought application in vascular surgery), and is the Switch easy to produce? Another important question was, which indication technique can ensure that the sutures are placed exactly five to seven millimeters apart? The results of the expert review and the contact between Mellon and Demcon were so satisfactory that the partners decided to further collaborate on the development of the instrument and subsequent production. “We selected Demcon because they have a broad experience in medical product development,” explains Mellon CEO Jan Benschop. “In the Netherlands, they have everything in house for that: development, production, and quality control.” Demcon production has the necessary assembly facilities in place, and Demcon metal injection molding commands the appropriate technique for making the precision parts of the Switch.

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To underline the mutual commitment, Demcon is participating in the new financing round of €4 million, which Mellon concluded this month with its current shareholders Thuja Capital, regional development companies Oost NL and BOM, and RvO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency). The new investment will allow Mellon to introduce the Switch to the medical market. The global market for sutures and suturing devices is estimated at $3 billion a year. “Our instrument can accelerate the introduction of the ‘small bites’ technique for suturing,” Benschop says. “This can greatly improve the quality of life for patients and contribute to the reduction of healthcare costs.”

The partnership with Mellon is in line with Demcon’s views on corporate social responsibility, explains Jemy Pauwels, investment director at Demcon. “We develop technology that can provide solutions to social problems. Our conversations with surgeons have confirmed that this new instrument responds to the wishes of the medical world, making suturing much easier and faster, and thus increasing patient well-being and surgeon efficiency. As a result, the surgeon can perform the procedure themselves with more control, and is less dependent on OR assistants. In our expert review, we explored what our developers still have to do to arrive at a market-ready product. We also investigated the relevance of our production capabilities, and the height of a realistic cost price. We are now investing in Mellon because we have confidence in the potential of the product and technology, and in the quality of its management. That’s why we like to present ourselves as an engineering and manufacturing partner.”

About Demcon
Demcon (700 employees) develops, produces and supplies technology and innovative products. The Demcon group has locations in Best, Enschede, Delft, Groningen (the Netherlands), Münster (Germany), and Singapore. The company was born out of the founders’ passion for combining creativity and technical skills aimed at solving complex issues. These issues are of a technological and social nature, and often have a direct or indirect impact on people and their living environment. Whether medical solutions, sustainable innovations for themes such as water and energy, or systems that guard our safety, Demcon contributes – for current and future generations. In addition to developing technical solutions, Demcon is committed to stimulating entrepreneurship, and investing in talent and education.