Interview with Dr. Hilmar Janusson, V.P, Research & Development, Ossur -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

Dr. Hilmar Janusson has been Vice President of Research & Development at Ossur in Reykjavik, Iceland since 1993. During that time, his team has helped Ossur introduce more innovations in prosthetic devices than any other company in the world.

Dr. Hilmar Janusson
Having secured his Bachelors degree in Chemistry in 1987 and his Masters in Solid State Chemistry one year later -- both at the University of Iceland -- Dr. Janusson then attended the School of Materials at the University of Leeds (1988-1991), where he earned a PhD with a specialization in piezoelectric composite materials.

In addition to co-founding Matvice, a nanotechnology start-up, in 2000, Dr. Janusson is Chairman of the Board of Star-Oddi, a developer and manufacturer of technologies for oceanic research; a board member of Hafmynd, a developer of novel underwater technologies; Chairman of the Board of the Science Park Project at the University of Iceland; and board member of the Research Counsel of Iceland, the Icelandic Science and Technology Counsel, and the Icelandic Research Fund.

The RHEO KNEE uses a unique technology. What inspired Ossur hf. to develop the RHEO KNEE and what has been the reaction to the RHEO KNEE within both the medical and patient communities?

People like Gil Moncrief, a 55 year old water skier, licensed pilot, and CEO of his own firm, are our greatest sources of inspiration. Gil lost his leg above the knee when he was 12 years old. This is a man who has experienced, first-hand, every technological breakthrough in prosthetics, going from a limb made of wood and fiberglass, to a hydraulic knee unit, and finally, to the Rheo Knee, which he claims has given back to him something he lost long ago… confidence.

Gil has told us: "For the first time since I lost my leg, I have a tremendous feeling of safety and security – of confidence in my knee. No other knee has done that for me. I was always pushing the limits. Even as an amputee, I’d always walk down steep hills, but I had to turn sideways. Now, I just walk down them normally, and I feel completely safe….it’s a marvel of engineering that replicates normal knee function better than anything else out there."

Clinical results have confirmed that the Rheo Knee requires less energy consumption on the part of the amputee and improves rehabilitation results. This is what we strive for.

No advances had been made to microprocessor knees since 1997, and we saw the Rheo Knee as an opportunity to overhaul the concept and introduce technologies that had never been applied in any other field, including the use of magnetorheological (MR) fluid and artificial intelligence for prosthetic limbs. Perhaps more remarkably, the prosthetics industry has always been on the receiving end of proven technologies developed for other purposes, and never the innovator, and Ossur has changed all that.

The risk was high, but the results have been extremely gratifying. Now more than ever, amputees’ activities are limited more by their will and aspirations, and not by the performance of their prosthesis, as had been the case with older designs.

What kind of impact do you see the launch of the RHEO KNEE having on the prosthetic knee market? Do you expect your company’s share of the market to increase significantly?

We have seen both market expansion and increased market share, which are always the objectives of our product strategies. The Rheo Knee is part of Ossur’s overall stratagem, which is to increase the value to our shareholders by growing year after year at a rate that well exceeds the industry average, and we accomplish this by expanding and improving our product offerings and developing markets geographically. For example, we are preparing to build our markets in Asia.

Are there any other products in the pipeline, which use this unique MR fluid technology?

We think of the technology used in the Rheo Knee -- which includes the MR actuator, as well as innovative software and hardware -- as a technology platform. Its high performance and fast response time give us ample opportunities to augment human movement.

The return on that investment will be realized in a full product range we refer to as Ossur Bionics – a line of products for both the prosthetic and orthopedic markets, which we expect will transform industry offerings as well as raise the bar in rehabilitation. The objectives are simple yet high: remove the physical limitations caused by a patient’s disability; remove the morbidity inherent in some conventional designs; and make the technology available to a wider group of patients.

The next step will be the first motorized prosthesis, which we will introduce this fall, called the Power Knee.

I should add that Ossur allocates an industry record of 8-10 per cent of its revenue on research and development, and collaborates with research giants such as Hugh Herr of MIT and its AI Lab, Harvard Medical School, Kings College of London, Northwestern University Medical School, Erasmus University of Holland, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden, just to name but a few and are always in pursuit of greater science.

This has given me and my co-workers valuable access to some of the brightest and most interesting scientists in the world, and has led to Ossur partnering on the research, commercialization and licensing of inventions, which are key elements in our IP strategy.

I also think that we are better equipped to serve our field as we address changes in demography and the constantly evolving medical requirements, given higher life expectancy and enhanced activities. This has to be done at the same time that efficiency, safety and efficacy are increased. If new technology and approach are not employed the whole scenario becomes an oxymoron.

I think we will in a short time be equipped to offer a large variety of products to health professionals dealing with almost all aspects of human rehabilitation for various medical indications and various groups of people from different walks of life

What do you feel are the main challenges for a company active in the global prosthetics and orthotics market, and how does your company face, and overcome them?

The consolidation of our industry has given my company the opportunity to shape and change our field more than ever before. We take this responsibility seriously and realize that we have to work with all stakeholders to achieve realistic progress in the field of rehabilitation.

Through acquisition and product strategy we have recruited the most accomplished and prolific people and companies and in our field. For orthotic rehabilitation, we have acquired GII from Canada, the leader in orthotics for osteoarthritic patients. Independent clinical research has proven that one of its products, the Unloader, significantly relieves or eliminates the pain caused by Knee OA and suffered by 25-30 per cent of persons aged 45-64 years, 60 per cent of persons older than 65 years, and 80 per cent of persons older than 75 years. We also recently acquired Royce Medical, a company with a powerful sales channel that addresses the needs of a wide range of professionals in rehabilitation medicine.

We have also established the core competencies needed to provide a successful and sustainable product strategy. This strategy has served us well so far and offers ample opportunities ahead. We need to accomplish this while also taking increased efficiency, safety and efficacy into account. Ignoring new technologies and approaches will only lead us into a contradictory scenario, where we cannot move forward.

Are the challenges global? We take the approach of working with local stakeholders and participating in the development of the health services -- and their inherent dynamic movements – of each market.

Furthermore, I would like to thank Frost & Sullivan for contributing to the rapid development of the O&P industry, and advancing the field of medical technology, which is a vision that Ossur shares.

Mr. Janusson, thank you very much for your time and answers.

For further information please contact:

Katja Feick
Corporate Communications
+44 (0) 207 915 7856