Innovation Ecosystem

IlluminOss: A big RI success story

With its innovative technology, IlluminOss has built a whole body solution for fracture repair, from head to toe

Photo courtesy of IlluminOss

An employee demonstrates IlluminOss's new technology to repair bone fracture.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 11/27/23
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EAST PROVIDENCE – Robert Rabiner, the founder of IlluminOss Medical, a commercial stage biotech firm headquartered on Waterman Avenue, describes himself modestly as a serial entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of three innovative medical device firms, and holds some 89 patents to his name.

Beginning with the firm’s FDA de novo approval for use of its innovative technology in fracture repair, ConvergenceRI has been following IlluminOss, reporting on the company’s success in gaining traction with its growing share of the U.S. market.

In an interview with ConvergenceRI in December of 2014, Rabiner had described the innovative technology that repairs fractures through the implant of a reinforcing agent inside a balloon that is cured by visible light. “To our knowledge, we’re the only [firm] in the world that does that,”Rabiner said.

As described on the IlluminOss website at that time, “The minimally invasive IlluminOss Photodynamic Bone Stabilization System is used to treat fractures through a small entry into the bone. A flexible balloon catheter is inserted into the bone, placed across the fracture site, and infused with a proprietary liquid monomer [a molecule that can bind chemically to form a polymer].”

The liquid monomer then expands the balloon, the description continued, “to assist in the alignment of the fractured bone.” Surgeons then use a visible light source to illuminate it and convert it into a hardened polymer implant – similar to dental cement.

“The result is an exceptionally tough, customized orthopedic implant that provides strength and stabilization to the bone during the healing process,” the website description said.

The process achieves a customized, immediately stable implant, giving patients near-immediate rotation stability, according to IlluminOss.

“We’re still the same company that you met with years ago,” Rabiner said,  during his recent interview with ConvergenceRI, conducted the day before Thanksgiving over Zoom from the company’s German offices.

“Nothing has changed,” Rabiner said. “We’re decidedly focused on one thing: fracture repair. Treating poor quality bone. Metastatic disease. We do it in an innovative fashion. It’s the same story, just bigger. It’s the same story, yet we are far more skilled, and adroit in our ability to reach the orthopedic market.”

A big reason why the firm’s outreach to the orthopedic community had grown was the fact Healthpoint Capital, a private equity firm, acquired a majority share of the company.

Rabiner was insistent that the company would remain a Rhode Island company, located in East Providence. “We’ve been happy here since day one. We continue to grow. We’re not moving.”

Here is the ConvergenceRI with Robert Rabiner, the founder of IlluminOss, one of the most successful medical device companies in Rhode Island history.

ConvergenceRI: What prompted you to reach out?
RABINER: The company put together this whole Rhode Island story that we are playing with, because it is an interesting Rhode Island story as well as an excellent clinical, commercial story. And, I have been sort of put up as a paragon of peak Rhode Island entrepreneurial success, I guess.

ConvergenceRI: Do you feel like you are a paragon of Rhode Island entrepreneurism?
RABINER: Me being put up as a paragon, that is a separate issue. The interesting thing is how well the product really, really does work.

When we were talking [some nine years ago], we were still sort of nascent, I would call it. An early commercial [stage], with a  lot of success in Europe, but the U.S. market had not really taken off.

Then, we got the first approval back in late 2017, effectively 2018. And we started using it exclusively for the metastatic indication.

We followed on with a subsequent approval for general trauma about a year later. And then, subsequently, we built out the entire anatomical platform, where now it is a “head to toe” fracture repair solution.

And, [the technology] has really gained resonance in the poor quality, osteoporotic, geriatric fragility market. We’re just seeing that take off like gangbusters.

ConvergenceRI: That’s exciting news. That was always the hope. You had a product, and once you were able to gain full access to the entire bone fracture repair market in the U.S., the product would take of – because you really didn’t have any competitors in the marketplace.
RABINER: I think one of the big things was that three years ago, the company was acquired by a private equity group, Healthpoint Capital.

Healthpoint is exclusively in the muscular-skeletal space. They are in orthopedics, only orthopedics; that’s what they know, what they do, and what they breathe. They know everybody in that space. And so, they’ve been able to literally supercharge what we’ve done.

They have brought in incredible leadership and people knowledgeable in the space. We’ve built out the team even further to where we are recognized within the community.  They just have done a remarkable service to the company with all of their innate knowledge. I said remarkable I think four times there.

ConvergenceRI: When were you acquired? What was the date?  
RABINER: It was right as COVID hit. It would been just at the onset of COVID when they acquired the company.

Imagine taking over a new organization just when the world is sort of shutting down. How do you work when you don’t have access to hospitals or seeing people? Just their ability to make things known, to make contact was just remarkable. We were holding Zoom meetings hourly, with key surgeons. It has been the most incredible, wild ride.

ConvergenceRI: How the COVID epidemic affect IlluminOss’s business developoment plans?
RABINER: With the exception of masks, and the like, we worked through it, there was not a shutdown of the facility. I mean, you can’t run a medial device company remotely. You can’t build product with people at home. So we were there. And, we figured out a way work through COVID.

In some cases, we were supporting people in the OR, working remotely. If you can’t be there in person, we were there virtually.

And, I think it speaks to the simplicity and ease of use of the product, that you can train someone or assist someone when you’re doing it virtually.

ConvergenceRI: What do you think are the biggest opportunities for growth today in the fracture repair market?
RABINER: All of us old folks, our bones get weaker, and our bones get thinner.

And, a slight fall that would not have affected us years ago ends up in a fracture. IlluminOss provides a means not only to stabilize that fracture but offers the surgeon the opportunity to put his or her hardware into [the bone] in conjunction with the product.

Osteoporotic bone is like a tacky wallboard. If you try to sink a screw into [the bone], it just falls apart.

IluminOss, on the inside of that canal, gives you the opportunity to put a screw into it and have secure purchase.

So, where once a surgeon was trying to get hardware in place without the ability to get screw purchase, now IlluminOss allows them to stabilize [the bone] internally and the option to have put a screw in place.

We’re minimally invasive; we go in small, we get big within the canal. But that patient is only getting a minor incision, because the implant gets big within in the bone. There is less soft tissue damage; it’s better for the patient, it’s faster healing, with less co-morbidities – all wonderful benefits.

You can pick up all the statements from our website. Quite frankly, the piece that they put out with the patient talking about her recovery, I thought it was remarkable, because it’s not us talking about the product, you’re hearing from one of the patients that we’ve treated. It’s pretty darn remarkable.

If someone falls and breaks their distal radius, their forearm, and if they have surgery, they’ve got two weeks where you’re waiting for the incision to heal, and then you’ve got a couple of weeks where you are just holding it, and you’re not really allowed to use it, because you are waiting for the screws and the plates to allow things to heal. And then, they are going into some sort of physical therapy,

Well, IlluminOss goes in small, stabilizes the fracture, and, in many cases, you’re allowing them to get back to their daily living activities, in a week or two weeks. It’s remarkably faster – and that’s good for the patient.

ConvergenceRI: Do you have an ongoing relationship with Ortho RI? Because their outpatient surgical center seems ready made for a product like IlluminOss.
RABINER: They are using it. They’re a big fan of what the product represents. There is no relationship; there is no financial or consultancy or contractual relationship. They just use the product. And, this was something that they viewed as a direction that they wanted to take.

[Editor’s Note: In the IlluminOss press kit, Dr. Michael Bradley, Presdient/CEO of Ortho RI, offered the following statement praising the IlluminOss product: “IlluminOss is a cutting-edge technology… It offers almost instant strength and stability to the fracture site through a minimally invasive approach, allowing a fast return to activities of daily life. My patients deserve the best, and with the addition of IlluminOss to my suie of fracture treatment options, that is exactly what they get.”]

ConvergenceRI: Rhode Island is planning to invest $45 million in developing a R.I. Life Sciences Hub. Given your experience, moving from the early stage to the commercial stage as a company, what advice would you offer the state on how it should move forward with its plans?
RABINER: Richard, I’m not skilled enough to give anyone in corporate governance, state governance advice. That is over my pay grade. I am an entrepreneur. We’ve built this up.  I can’t tell others how to try to build things.

I’d have to study what they are doing. I have not been a part of it, so I can’t give commentary when I don’t know the nuances.

ConvergenceRI: Ae there new product developments in the works, as IlluminOss expands its market?
RABINER: Absolutely. We are working on a whole body solution. But, within that, we are looking how to expand the product in other areas, more toward the foot and ankle, more towards some newer indications in long-bone fracture. Some we can’t disclose; they are revolutionary, not evolutionary.

We have not rested on our laurels. We have continued since day one to innovate and build new things.

We’ve got a product we’re finishing up, which is a new light source, which is better, faster, cheaper, all of the adjectives and adverbs that you would want to add to a product. That should be launched in the very near future,

We’ve got some evolutionary and revolutionary things that we are working on, some of which I think are going to be extraordinary when they come to further light.

ConvergenceRI: No pun intended, with “further light?”
RABINER: There was a hint in there, but I am going to leave that one alone.

ConvergenceRI: What are the biggest barriers for growth that you are facing?
RABINER: I think the biggest barrier is always “new.” Orthopedics is a relatively linear market that has grown from metal, from the first plate back in the early 1900s, to the first nail in the mid-1930s. It’s conventional. And so, things that are not conventional take a little more time to become accepted.

I think the barrier was that we were small and unknown and did not have knowledgeable access to the orthopedic market, prior to Healthpoint. And since Healthpoint has come on board, it has been just a geometric rise in both indications as well as sales. The sales have just gone through the roof. Unfortunately, as a private company, we don’t disclose. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

ConvergenceRI: Is there anything that you can share in terms of the finances that would give an idea of the exponential growth that you’ve experienced. Can you give me a percentage rather than a financial number?
RABINER: I don’t know how to give you a number, other than to say that the growth just has been substantial, doubles and triples. I would just leave it at that. I realize that is under descriptive. But, we’ll have to leave it at that, because we don’t report numbers.

ConvergenceRI: Is there a difference between the European market, per se, and the American market? Are there other markets that are emerging?
RABINER: Fractures are fractures. People are people. Whether it be German, Italian, Swiss, French. God made us all remarkably the same, and we all sort of fracture the same.

There are minor nuance differentials as how surgeons may do the procedure. But IlluminOss is unique, in the fact that if I teach you how to do a fibula, it is the same as a pelvis in the preparation and delivery of the product. The beauty of this product is you learn it for one indication, and it is applicable to all others.

There is very little differential between any place in the world, which make sit very nice, because then you have the opportunity to look at treatment paradigms and look at results, and be able to pool the results from a global experience.

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