This young entrepreneur is nothing if not driven, now having no fewer than 11 projects in the medical products pipeline.
Calling Dr Chris Jeffery impressive seems almost redundant. Jeffery had completed a computer engineering degree before serving in the Australian Army and being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan nine years ago. After leaving the army in 2011, he tackled a medical degree at the University of Queensland, then embarked on a medical leadership program. Yet it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him that this 31-year old Brisbane entrepreneur is not even close to being done.
His most recent project is Field Orthopaedics, a company he co-founded three years ago after initially enrolling in a PhD in bionics at QUT. The company creates and designs medical devices and has 11 projects in the pipeline. His current focus is the Field Micro Screw. If all goes to plan, the screw, which took just 12 months and less than $600,000 to develop, is on track for approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. To put it into perspective, he says the average cost for a low to moderate classed product such as the micro screw to get to the FDA approval stage is $39 million – and it takes several years. Even though FDA approval is yet to be finalised, more than half a dozen American hospitals have expressed interest, including the top-ranked Mayo Clinic and leading orthopaedic speciality practice the Rothman Institute.
Although orthopaedics is clearly a passion, this is the latest in a line of companies and devices Jeffery has been involved in. One of his earlier projects involved writing a computer program called Audeara, an autonomous way to diagnose hearing disease. Eventually, that would evolve into consumer headphones. He and co-founder Dr James Fielding raised more than $460,000 through Kickstarter to launch the product. “That was all very exciting, but I wanted to be an orthopaedic doctor,” he says.
Jeffery says in about 40 per cent of cases, and possibly more, complications arise from the use of orthopaedic devices. “If you have four out of 10 patients having a bad outcome due to the device not being right, that’s massive,” he says. “I was well researched and well known in the community, and my orthopaedic colleagues pretty much said to me, ‘We have problems, too. Why are you going and thinking ENT (ear, nose and throat) when we’ve got problems that need to be solved?’
“I looked at a whole bunch of needs, and the biggest one that was quickest to market that really was going to provide a significant benefit to patients was the Field Micro Screw system. “It makes the job quicker, it makes the job more accurate, and it increases patient outcomes.” The tiny screws are hollow and work over a wire, allowing a surgeon to easily control their positioning.
Prominent Queensland hand surgeon Dr Greg Couzens, also a co-founder of Field Orthopaedics, says that at a recent Australian Hand Surgery Society conference 60 doctors said they would like to use the device in future surgeries. “Surgeons are always innovating and looking for better outcomes for their patients,” he says.
Jeffery hopes the screw will “reinvent” the way small fragment fractures of the hand and wrist are treated. He says these kinds of injuries later lead to arthritis. “It all starts with the injury. Bad injuries lead to a lifelong insult to the joints and the bone, which leads to arthritis, which eventually leads to replacements and reconstructions.
But … it comes back to fracture management. “What really makes fractures have a good outcome are two things: they need to be accurately reduced, so you need to put them back together the way they were; and they need to be rigidly fixed, so they need to stay together and not move. “Even a millimetre out of alignment will lead to arthritis, so accurate reduction is key.”
Dr Jeffery says it is exciting to see the orthopaedics community already embracing the concepts, and professing their willingness to use the product. “It’s very gratifying, I am so proud, ”he says. Companies in the UK and South Africa have also signed up to use the system. While hand fractures account for more than a third of all orthopaedic injuries, Jeffery says, traditionally, the big money was made in products for knee and hip replacements. He says his company, which is “essentially a startup”, can turn its own focus to problems that receive less attention from the giant medical-device companies.“Startups are great because people aren’t motivated by money, they’re motivated by making a difference,” Jeffery says. That’s why, he says, the company is committed to the product. ‘‘And our money will go back to ongoing product realisation and research.’’