|Interview of Eden Spine Europe’s President|
As one of the 4 co-founders, Mr. Ben Mokhtar serves as the head of Eden Spine’s R&D efforts. He brings to the organization 15 years of Research & Development experience. His contribution to the value of the organization is highlighted by the 7 patents that Eden Spine Europe filed since its creation in 2006 and by the development of Eden’s key motion preservation technologies; the PERFX-2™ Posterior Dynamic Stabilization System, the WELLEX™ Interspinous Technology, and the WELLDISC™ Total Disc Prosthesis. During his career he developed over 30 patented technologies, most of them on the market today, and many of them in the Motion Preservation arena. He studied biomechanical engineering & materials and graduated from the University of Reims in France.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure. I am a biomechanical engineer. My mother was French, my father a medical doctor from Morocco and I spent most of my childhood between both continents. I went to the University of Reims in France and received my engineering degree in 1995. After a fascinating experience with a French Biotech organization, I changed direction and I started working in the medical device arena. From 1998 to 2005, I headed the R&D efforts of a large European spine company headquartered next to Paris, developing over 25 patented spinal technologies, still implanted today in over 30 countries around the globe. In 2006, I co-founded Eden Spine. The past 15 years have given me a unique perspective, vision and appreciation of the creative forces that drive innovation in the world of spine. It has been a fun and fulfilling ride, and it is just beginning.
Did you have any mentors along the way?
Yes, my father. He was a Medical Doctor and growing up I spent a lot of time in his practice listening to him talk to his patients, and when he was done, he shared with me his passion for art. Every year, I went on trips with him to discover an artwork that was hidden somewhere and that he was considering adding to his collection. For him, art was a love affair, not a business, but he taught me passion and determination, the importance of enjoying what you do, and to take time to appreciate the beauty behind any creative work. He was not a technology mentor, but he allowed me to appreciate art in all its forms and be emotionally touched and fulfilled by human creation. I strongly believe that this approach is what led me to creating another kind of art in the Medtech industry and find great inner satisfaction doing it.
Can you first tell us about how you started your R&D career?
I started my research in the biomaterials arena working for over two years with a French organization on a new coating designed to improve the bone-implant interface. We achieved our objectives developing the technology from a concept to commercialization and I am proud to tell you that this coating is still used today. This first experience allowed me to work alongside multiple surgeons associated with the project, and to experience firsthand the challenges of the operating room on a daily basis. I can tell you that fifteen years later this intensive O.R. experience serves me every day to clearly understand, and keep in mind, what surgeons are looking for, and most importantly never forget that there is a patient on the table that we all strive to make feel better.
What can you tell us about your company?
First of foremost, we are a technology driven organization. Eden was initially a pure R&D company that evolved into a full scale spine company. Why? Because we quickly realized that if we wanted to truly impact patient care and maximize our potential we had to be able to control the process from a “napkin” design to clinical studies.
If I have to summarize what we stand for today, I would say that, with the WELLEX™ and the PERFX-2™, we are the solution of choice for surgeons looking for the latest generation of Posterior Dynamic Stabilization technologies. These new technologies have been developed, tested, approved for international use, and are now successfully implanted into patients worldwide. The WELLDISC™, once released, will certainly prove to be a leading disc replacement technology. What that truly means is that we represent the latest generations of dynamic technologies in the fastest growing segments of the spine industry. We offer solutions that no other technologies offer, and for a company of our size, our R&D pipeline is quite comprehensive. Of course, there are other exciting projects in it, but it is something that we will have to talk about in a future interview.
I once heard a business leader say that if you want to have a direct impact on the world, especially as a researcher, the best place to go is a start-up. Can you verify this assertion?
I am not sure whether this is specific to researchers, but it is clear for anyone who wants to have an immediate impact, that the start-up business model is attractive. This was one of the most rewarding parts of co-founding Eden Spine. We worked with surgeon inventors to develop new technologies with total intellectual freedom and the understanding that only creativity and innovation are the true weapons for differentiation and improved patient satisfaction. The result is that most of our new technologies are unique and most importantly are already helping patients in 10 countries around the world. That, I think, is very satisfying to anybody.
Now, as a partner in the company, what is your job exactly?
I started conceptualizing our key motion sparing technologies in 2005, but when my partners and I launched Eden Spine in 2006 the venture took on a new dimension and my mission became crystal clear… improve patient’s daily lives by developing new spinal technologies capable of removing pain without systematically removing motion. Even though we had an ambitious vision, the reality is that when you start out as an owner, you start small, and do everything that needs to be done. As a technology driven organization, I fully realize that my job is key to the success of Eden Spine. As you can imagine, I take this responsibility very seriously, which is why I also surround myself with a team of engineers and surgeons second to none.
What do you project for the future of spine technologies?
A number of changes are already taking place. As my partner Guillaume Viallaneix likes to say, we are moving from the age of fusion to the age of motion. I believe that he is right, but I will even push the envelope further. I think that if the age of “motion sparing technologies” is around the corner, what patients and society ultimately need is for us to get to the age of Prevention. The goal here will be to interrupt the inevitable degenerative cascade before it gets to the point of no return and requires heavy artillery such as titanium implants. It will only happen with well designed preventive care programs, but also with the development of “Regeneration Technologies” that simply “help the spine fix itself.” This would be the panacea! But don’t fool yourself; it will take many decades and major investments before we achieve it on a large scale.
Thank you very much!