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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

After 3-Year Partnership, DePuy Acquires TRS Scaffolding Technology


In 2014, Plymouth, MI-based biotech startup Tissue Regeneration Systems (TRS) began collaborating with DePuy Synthes Products, a company under the Johnson & Johnson umbrella making orthopedic products, such as the devices used in joint replacements.

This week, DePuy formalized that relationship with the announcement that it has acquired TRS’s FDA-approved, 3D-printed scaffolding technology that enables the creation of patient-specific bone implants based on the patient’s CT scans that are made of materials that can be reabsorbed by the body. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

TRS will continue to operate and develop its second technology, a biomineral coating that makes implants more bone-friendly, accelerating the healing process and enhancing regeneration. TRS CEO Jim Fitzsimmons says that as part of the deal announced this week, DePuy has the right to use the TRS mineral coating technology on its 3D scaffolding, but TRS will retain ownership of it. Both technologies—3D-printed resorbable scaffolding and the biomineral coating—were originally developed at the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin.

“It’s a terrific partnership,” Fitzsimmons says of DePuy. “It’s been a true joy working with them.”

DePuy and TRS began collaborating through Johnson & Johnson Innovation, a division of the consumer healthcare products conglomerate that seeks healthtech startups to partner with and invest in as a way to help keep its product development pipeline full.

Robert Urban, the global head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, says DePuy was interested in adding new material science capabilities that would inspire greater patient satisfaction, which led it to TRS.

“Being able to offer conventional solutions now in a very custom way is a new offering for us,” he explains. “We’re quite excited to fast-track commercialization and start getting it into as many patients’ lives as possible.”

After spending the past nine years building up TRS, Fitzsimmons is looking forward to the company’s next phase of growth. TRS plans to pursue “much broader applications” for the biomineral coating, he says, such as the area of spinal fusions, where most implants are made of titanium or PEEK—which the human body tends to recognize as a foreign object, he says.

“A biofilm can form and prevent total healing,” he adds. “That creates the potential for infection. Coating PEEK in our material turns it into something more bone-like.”

Fitzsimmons says TRS is “not a commercial company,” preferring instead to partner with large entities like DePuy when it comes to getting its products on the market. The seven-person team plans to continue down the partnership path as it further develops its coating.

“Next, we’re focusing on R&D initiatives,” he says. “Our model is to work with bigger companies on commercialization, so we hope to repeat that.”