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Why a leading healthcare CEO sees recombinant DNA as a metaphor for developing breakthrough technologies



Xenco Medical Founder and CEO Jason Haider posits that business lessons can be learned by looking to Recombinant DNA as an analogue.

In an era of fierce competition, with companies from across the globe vying to disrupt markets and establish themselves as standard bearers in their respective industries, it is rare for an organisation to achieve true disruption.

Recognised as one of the most innovative medical technology companies in the country, Xenco Medical’s substantial list of accolades, from being named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company to winning the World Economic Forum’s New Champions Award for Excellence in Sustainable Growth and beyond, is a testament to a unique, winning strategy with regards to both engineering and management.

I spoke with Xenco Medical Founder and CEO Jason Haider on his approach to developing breakthrough technologies, building a leading company, and his belief that Recombinant DNA can serve as a useful model for cultivating innovation.

In 1973, a landmark paper by researchers at Stanford and UCSF entitled “Construction of Biologically Functional Bacterial Plasmids In Vitro” spawned what many consider to be the beginning of the Recombinant DNA technology era and paved the way for subsequent discoveries that seeded the modern biotechnology industry.

50 years later, from insulin to agriculture, the ubiquity of Recombinant DNA in our everyday lives is remarkable.

Jason Haider sees a unique parallel between the process of creating Recombinant DNA and the process of creating innovative, resilient companies.

“To cultivate a continuous pipeline of enduring, novel ideas, it’s important to create an enzymatic environment that, much like a restriction endonuclease, cleaves compelling strands of thought from across disparate groups and catalyses the creation of a uniquely recombinant solution,” notes Haider.

“By beginning with compelling best practices and advancements that have proven their utility in a specific industrial context and identifying them as genes of interest, so to speak, organisations can find compatible nodes on these conceptual fragments to facilitate their successful integration, or ligation to continue with the metaphor, with a company’s existing DNA,” adds Haider.

When I asked Haider to highlight an example of when Xenco Medical employed this Recombinant DNA-inspired framework, he noted:

“When we developed the first biomimetic, injection-molded titanium foam spinal implants, we began with a thorough analysis of the state of the spinal interbody market to gauge what factors, from material properties to mechanical characteristics, were driving surgeon preferences.

“We used this as a starting point before distilling the critical elements that translated into ideal surgical outcomes.

“The existing genes, so to speak, that we identified existed in divergent, competing technologies.”

Haider continued with, “One gene was the bone-like modulus of elasticity that was offered through polymer implants such as polyetheretherketone and the other was the osseointegration potential of titanium that was offered through rigid titanium implants.

“The drawback with polyetheretherketone, however, was its inert nature and lack of bioactivity while the shortcoming of titanium implants at the time was mechanical stiffness, which contributed to cases of subsidence because of the contact stress at the bone-implant interface.

“Understanding that both of these technological genes offered their respective advantages and disadvantages, we began an extensive process of development to incorporate the clinically advantageous elements of each into a novel, recombinant surgical device that simultaneously leveraged our company’s existing engineering DNA in the form of best practices and proprietary technology.”

Haider continued by explaining, “In order to match a bone-like modulus of elasticity while preserving the osseointegration potential of titanium, it became clear that a method would need to be designed to create a highly porous, cancellous bone-like titanium implant for spine surgery.

“Our technical expertise at the time was deeply anchored in medical injection molding, which we had applied in creating the first composite polymer spinal implant and instrument system years before.

“This served as the existing DNA with which these two existing genes would be ligated.

“The recombinant solution that arose from the integration of these two genes with our existing technological DNA was the creation of the first injection molded titanium foam spinal implants with an interconnected porosity that allowed for bone-like mechanical characteristics.”

Haider followed with, “To ensure the realisation and FDA-clearance of our recombinant surgical device through our organisation and, inevitably, the market as a whole, we had to harmonise it with our quality and regulatory framework, much like a host cell incorporating recombinant DNA before successful expression of the recombinant genes.”

When I asked him how Xenco Medical’s recombinant approach translated into device performance, Haider noted, “From bone-like elasticity to unprecedented capillary action for a titanium implant, our recombinant approach in developing our titanium foam surgical devices was instrumental not only in designing a truly unique implant for spine surgery but in bringing it to market in a timely manner through an approach that leveraged our core technical competencies as the plasmid DNA, so to speak.”

“We’ve continued to use this framework in the development and commercialization of several surgical technologies since then and have found that, in every case, this manifold, integrative design process has been extremely fruitful both conceptually and commercially,” added Haider.

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