Evonik leads funding round for Chinese 3D printing medical startup

German industrial chemical corporation Evonik has led a “high single-digit million-euro” round of funding for Meditool, a medical device start-up in Shanghai, the company’s first direct investment in China.

Meditool manufacturers 3D printed neuro and spine surgery implants using Evonik’s polymer PEEK instead of metals. For patients, this technology enables faster recovery and fewer post-operation checks. Meditool’s implants also reduce the surgical risk for doctors.

“This is our first direct investment in China and our first direct investment after initiating our second venture capital fund this year,” said Bernhard Mohr, head of Evonik Venture Capital. 

Evonik’s investment aims to strengthen Evonik’s Smart Materials growth engine with innovative application for high-performance polymers. Co-investors in Meditool include ZN Ventures, Morningside Ventures and Puhua Capital. 

Meditool’s polymer implants

3D printed medical implants and healthcare services are finding increasing use by healthcare professionals. Meditool’s in-house software can read and process images directly from commonly used MRI or CT scan devices, then generating a 3D model. Customization allowed by 3D printing can make plates fitting precisely to a patient’s skull. This reduces the likelihood of further operations to adjust the size, shape or positioning of the implant.

The conventional solution in the orthopaedics implant market is primarily metals. Previously, Renishaw, NexxtSpine and DePuy Synthes have respectively created 3D printed titanium spinal implants. Meditool’s print material chosen was Evonik’s high-performance polymer Polyetheretherketone (PEEK). Compared to metals, 3D printed PEEK implants are less thermally conductive, thus implants would not heat up or cool down excessively with the temperature the patient is exposed in. Furthermore, the material is biocompatible, making CT and MRI examinations possible after surgery.

Commenting on Evonik’s strategy of expanding high-tech applications of its additive manufacturing materials, Thomas Grosse-Puppendahl, head of Evonik’s innovation growth field Additive Manufacturing commented “Medical applications are of particular interest and our high-performance polymers have already been proven as a reliable implant material in other applications such as dental.”

Meditool’s PEEK neuro implants. Photo via Evonik.

Investing in Chinese technology

Evonik Venture Capital plays a strategic role in Evonik’s goal to become a best-in-class specialty chemicals company, by helping secure access to disruptive technologies as well as supporting digital transformation for the company. Since its inception in 2012, Evonik Venture Capital has been investing in young technology companies in the fields of Health & Care, Smart Materials, Animal Nutrition and Specialty Additives. At the beginning of 2019, it launched its second venture capital fund with a volume of €150 million, more than doubling the amount under management to €250 million.

The company considers China a key growth market, as it is the world’s second-largest for medical implants. With China’s population and growing middle-class, Evonik believes these will drive a fast-paced demand and estimate the annual growth rates to reach 10-15%. .

Meditool’s PEEK neuro implants. Photo via Evonik.

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Featured image shows Meditool’s PEEK neuro implants. Photo via Evonik.