Technology & innovation | Industry, manufacturing

Marchmont’s focus on innovation: Tomsk suture for surgeons of the future

17 Feb '12
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor

Three Tomsk universities have pooled their expertise to develop a new generation of biodegradable surgical suture using an advanced high-purity substance. In a country that still has no domestic supply of biodegradable polymers, the project owners want—pending government funding—to launch in three-to-four years Russia’s first production of sophisticated low-toxicity glyoxal-based monofilaments.

In a fairly unique academia consortium, Tomsk State University (TSU), Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) and Tomsk-based Siberian State Medical University (SSMU) are reportedly working on a comprehensive technology that would enable production of biodegradable, or bioabsorbable, surgical suture from glyoxal, a recently discovered substance believed to be of superb purity and remarkably low toxicity when in contact with humans.

The next gen suture, to be produced as monofilaments, is expected to have a number of market-winning advantages like superior mechanical strength, reduced immunogenicity and, most notably, foreseeable biodegradation kinetics.

Over the course of this year the partners expect to polish and refine the technology and have their equipment properly run in to set the stage for full-scale performance tests slated for 2013. The developers hope that setting up commercial production of bioabsorbable glyoxal-based monofilaments will take another two or three years maximum.

In addition to advanced biodegradable retention suture the project owners are reportedly eyeing broader surgical applications, including technology for innovative disinfecting filaments, human organ specific suture material, and some others.

TSU and TPU will reportedly be responsible for the technical aspects of this effort, and SSMU is expected to take care of preclinical and clinical trials once the new products are developed.

A pathfinder for Russia, a small bud for the world

The prospective factory will be a Russian trailblazer in the field. As a spokesman for the project, Alexei Knyazev, put it, “there’s a huge market for such material, but in Russia it is next to zero as there’s no commercial production.”

Unlike this country that is but a tiny speck on the radar of international biodegradable polymers market observers, the global market for all types of such polymers has shown good dynamics over the past two years.

According to BCC Research, it grew more than 20% between 2010 and 2011 and by 2016 is expected to explode by another 160% to an estimated $3.9bn. Still a small percentage compared to the market’s primary drivers like the packaging and fibers/fabrics segments, surgical applications have been on the rise.

An academic consortium

Set up as far back as 1878 by Tsar Alexander II as Imperial Siberian University, Tomsk State University is now one of the oldest scientific, educational and R&D centers in Russia’s trans-Urals area. In April 2010 it joined a pioneering group of 12 Russian higher educational establishments granted the status of National Research Universities with a broad mandate for scientific activity and R&D-focused entrepreneurship.

Tomsk Polytechnic University was established in 1896 as Tomsk Institute of Technology. It is also one of Russia’s new National Research Universities and a major player in Siberia’s innovation technology field.

Set up in 1888 as a medical department of Imperial Tomsk University, Siberian State Medical University is Siberia’s oldest higher medical educational establishment. It actively engages in innovation and has since 2010 been trying to bring new developments to market via its Technology Transfer Center.

A glyoxal primer

The university consortium is betting that the substance their project revolves around, glyoxal, may once become a game-changer in the field of advanced surgical paraphernalia.

Glyoxal has already been known globally for years, and Russia is now reported to be the world’s eighth country to possess technology for its synthesis. Tomsk State University’s own method first tested in the 1990s resulted in 2009 in setting up Russia’s only glyoxal production of the substance for a variety of uses, including explosives, next gen rocket fuel, medical supplies, and some others.

From glyoxal, precious hydroxiacetic acid is derived—a raw material for polymers, the basis for all the products the Tomsk project is seeking to develop, including filaments and films.

The project owners believe their effort is economically viable as making glyoxal domestically has helped drive down its cost. However, how much is required to get this new Tomsk initiative off the ground has yet to be specified.

The consortium is said to be seeking funding from the Russian Technology Development Fund, a government entity set up recently to co-invest in scientific, R&D and innovation activity within this country. Another likely funder for the endeavor could be the RF Ministry of Education and Science’s Medicine of the Future, a special program designed to support domestic ground-breaking technology in medicine and promote brand new markets for hi-tech pharma and biotech products and services.
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