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CollaFirm Advances Dental Surgery

Dental implant surgery has come a long way. But it’s still surgery, which means something of yours will be opened, tinkered with, and sealed.

Because it is invasive, implant surgery requires recovery time, but unlike many surgeries, it is nearly impossible to rest the area operated upon. And then there is the matter of how delicate the gums can be.

Part of the surgery involves grafting a membrane to the affected area, which keeps infectious microbes at bay.

One problem with the membranes oral surgeons traditionally have used is that they are bulky, often stiff, and inflexible. The other, bigger problem is that once you heal, you have to get the barrier membrane cut out.

That, however, is about to change. CollaFirm, a collagen science research company based at 7 Deer Park Drive, has developed the next generation of porcine (pig) membranes that will act as the barrier membrane after implant surgery.

The membrane is a softer, more supple barrier membrane that eventually integrates with the gum, thus eliminating the need for a return trip to the oral surgeon’s chair. CollaFirm co-developed the membrane with the Texas-based company that now markets it.

CollaFirm’s research is based entirely on porcine collagen. The company’s founder and president, Surendra Batra, has been a collagen scientist for 25 years. And if his name sounds familiar, it is because he was a vice president of R&D at Integra LifeSciences, based at 313 Enterprise Drive in Plainsboro.

Born and raised in India, Batra earned his bachelor’s in physics, math, and chemistry from Agra University in 1965.

He earned his master’s degrees in organic chemistry from Meerut University in 1970 and in medical biochemistry from Maulana Azad Medical College in New Dehli in 1977.

In 1983 Batra received his Ph.D. in invented and synthesized radioactive azidoacridine studies at Reading University in England. He also holds a post-doctorate in enzymology and protein chemistry from the University of Delaware.

Batra spent about 10 years with Integra and was the chief developer on two of the company’s skin and tissue regeneration products. He also helped develop a dural membrane, which is used in brain surgery the same way CollaFirm’s dental product is used in implant surgery — as a barrier against infection.

In 2000 Batra took a job as a consultant with Davol, a division of the largest hernia surgery products company in the world, Bard. He worked part time with Davol because it is based in Providence, Rhode Island, and he did not want to move there. But for nine years Batra made the trip to Providence once a week, often for a couple days at a time. He was chief consultant of all collagen-based agents used in general surgical applications at Davol.

In 2009 Batra tired of the commute — though he says Davol treated him like royalty, paying for his travel and lodging, and providing him with good money. “My family kept saying ‘Why don’t you do that here?’” he says. “So I finally said OK.”

When he founded CollaFirm Batra had already decided to only do research into porcine collagen. It was shortly after the world became familiar with mad cow disease and the issues of safety and contamination were hot topics in bovine collagen research.

His early research at CollaFirm, looked into what could be done with porcine collagen, but he had no designs on the dental surgery market — even though he had once worked on dental implant products at Integra. But then a tissue supplier Batra had known for years passed the word that a dental products company in Texas was looking for a better membrane for oral surgery. Batra flew to Lubbock to visit with Osteogenics, which commissioned CollaFirm to research and develop the new product.

Part of the development was to find ways to make a sterile product. Because collagen is an animal product — it is the group of proteins found in connective tissue — it is subject to animal diseases, particularly virus. This has been another issue with membrane products used post-surgery, Batra says.

CollaFirm exchanged its science for royalties, which Batra says should at least bring enough money into the company to keep his research going.

CollaFirm’s latest research is in developing a product for ACL damage (the ligaments surrounding the knee) and another for wound care, such as cuts and burns. Both are in the early phases, but Batra believes that in five years he could have a viable ACL product.

For the wound care studies Batra is working on a gel that could be used to treat donor site damage.

A donor site is the spot on your body from which doctors take a skin graft or some other part to use elsewhere. When you take part of a leg vein to use in coronary bypass surgery, for example, the leg has to heal too. This is in the bio-compatability stage.

CollaFirm’s lab work is outsourced, Batra says. He develops the science and others do the lab work. There is little room for lab work in his 800-square-foot office. But there is room for his wife, Saroj, who handles the company’s accounting and public affairs. She is part of what Batra refers to as “a real family business.” His son and daughter, each of whom have MBAs, help run the company.

Barry Constantine, a consultant helping in the regulatory affairs in the products which are in the development process at CollaFirm.

If the market reach is modest now, Batra says, it likely will be quite sizable in a few years. And as science comes to understand better the possibilities porcine research has to offer, CollaFirm could prove to be a future next-big-thing. “We’re well-positioned,” Batra says. “We’re in a good place.”

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