Novus Life Sciences – Filling a Hole in the Market
Wilson Wong 黃棨麟 (BEng 2006; MPhil 2009; PhD 2013)
Kenneth Lai 賴景然 (BSc 2005; MMedSc 2006; MPhil 2010; PhD 2015)
Nicholas Wong 黃仲廉 (PhD 2013)
One might expect biomedical PhD graduates to continue their academic research journey rather than chase money, but for the PhD trio: Wilson, Kenneth and Nicholas, it was a matter of combining the two by establishing the biotech startup Novus Life Sciences, with the hope of accelerating the commercialisation process and bringing cutting-edge technologies to the
market for the benefit of orthopaedic patients.
Novus, founded in 2014, focuses on the development of orthobiologics and aims to fill a market gap by providing a highly injectable biomaterial needed for minimally invasive surgical procedures, particularly targeting patients suffering from osteoarthritis.
“The market at the moment only has painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication for osteoarthritis patients. But those options cannot fix broken cartilage, the root of the problem. The only other choice is joint replacement surgery. Yet, who wants to undergo such a risky and painful surgery when 70 years old? What we are doing is making a filler biomaterial with low viscosity so that it can be injected but at the same time, has high density so once it is in the bone it can fill the holes. The cartilage is then no longer under pressure and pain is eased,” said Wilson, CEO of Novus.
The dream is big; the challenges are also big. As a bioentrepreneur, Wilson found a lack of pharmaceutical business expertise in Hong Kong. “Our future product involves a huge amount of investment, and needs to go through clinical trials and be approved by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration). It’s also like a racing game, we never know if someone out there is working on the same concept or technology. We have to work fast!” What they can do is to keep reaching out to investors worldwide to get knowledge, a network and venture capital.
But even networking is not easy for a company that is “nobody”. Novus tried hard to get publicity and recognised as much as possible, first by being selected as an incubatee of the Incu-Tech Programme organised by the Hong Kong Science & Technology Park Corporation in 2014, and then by being named as one of the 50 finalists of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW 50) and one of CNBC’s 20 world’s hottest startups, even though their products are not realised yet.
Still, the trio is finding the entrepreneurial ride to be an undulating one. “We feel like surfing – waves there are waiting for us to overcome, if we still survive. We have to be prepared for changes too. Our business plan always changes as we go along and see new opportunities,” said Wilson.
While the clinical trial of their filler biomaterial for osteoarthritis patients is expected to be conducted by early 2017, they had an alternative idea inspired by a venture capital investor – to see whether the filler would work in racehorses, a plan that would be easier and quicker to proceed with, and demand is high.