Walloon medtech AuXin Surgery has concluded the Belgian Royal Mission to the UK by signing an important distribution contract for the British market. Brexit or not, this event confirms British interest and dynamism with regard to innovative solutions in the health and life sciences sectors. It is an opportunity to be seized by the many Walloon companies in the sector. While the ink is still drying on the paper, we can take stock with Xavier Delcorps, CCO of AuXin Surgery.
In the framework of the Royal Mission to the United Kingdom (from 9 to 12 May), which has just ended, Wallonia Export and the BioWin Competitiveness Cluster (and its counterpart FlandersBio) organised several seminars and meetings between Belgian and English companies and academic stakeholders (Babraham Institute, One Nucleus, etc.) in the life sciences sector.
The objective was to present the dynamism of the sector in Belgium and identify commercial or research partnerships between the two countries. The post-Brexit challenges and opportunities (regulations, data protection, intellectual property) in the sector, including access to English funding, the NHS system (purchasing and selection procedures, etc.) and investment avenues were the focus of the discussions and demonstrated that the opportunities are there and that Brexit has not changed business prospects.
After the marathon of visits, meetings and seminars, it was time for signatures. This is a bit of a tradition during Belgian economic missions. This time, Walloon medtech AuXin Surgery has signed a partnership agreement with a major British distributor for the distribution of its solutions in England and Northern Ireland. It was in this context that we had the opportunity to talk to Xavier Delcorps, its Chief Commercial Officer, about export, Brexit and business culture in the UK.
Wallonia Export & Investment Agency (AWEX): Hello Xavier. First of all, could you tell us what AuXin Surgery is?
Xavier Delcorps: AuXin Surgery is a company founded in Louvain-La-Neuve in 2014 by Gilles Capart and a pioneer in chemically assisted medical dissection.
AWEX : What does that mean?
XD: Many surgeries are hampered by the difficulty of dissecting pathological tissues without damaging healthy elements (e.g. chronic otitis, certain tumours or spine). Our solution, called CADISS®, allows surgeons to dissect more efficiently thanks to our molecule that decreases tissue's ability to adhere. The advantage is that it reduces the risk of damaging the organs, the spinal cord, the tissues, etc. It is less aggressive and blunt, and drastically reduces any risk of tears. Moreover, it is easy for a surgeon to assimilate since there are no new techniques to learn.
AWEX: And your solutions are already available on the market?
XD: Absolutely. We first spent most of our time investing in research and development and obtaining the necessary permits. To give you an idea, it took us five years to obtain the CE marking (Class III), a long and expensive regulatory approach, but one that is essential if we are to market our system. We have now done this, and as of 2019, CADISS® is the first chemically assisted surgical dissection system available in the world. CADISS® is currently registered as a Class III CE surgical device for musculoskeletal indications (e.g. spinal surgery and hand surgery) and ear surgery (tympanoplasty, cholesteatoma, etc.). New surgical indications have been submitted to the European authorities and will be approved by the end of 2022.
AWEX: Who are your end customers at this point?
XD: They are care facilities, hospitals, medical centres, etc. But the end users, the ones who confirm whether or not our systems are beneficial, are the surgeons who operate in these facilities. We work with distributors in each country or geographical area who have their own networks and very good knowledge of the most important surgeons in that location. This is why we will be signing a new agreement here in the UK.
AWEX: Are you already exporting elsewhere in the world?
XD: Yes, since 2019 we have signed distribution agreements in more than 35 countries, inside and outside Europe. Our customers are distributors with whom we negotiate contracts by country (exclusivity) or multi-country geographical areas (DACH, Nordic countries, Baltic countries, etc.). We recently attended the Arab Health exhibition with Wallonia Export and have since been in discussion with several Middle Eastern countries, Turkey, Israel and some Asian countries. The support provided by AWEX is crucial to the success of these missions abroad.
Before we can sign contracts, we also have to finalise on-site tests for each country, including 'grounded cases' to show that our systems work. The advantage of the CE marking is that it is recognised as a standard in many countries, and we just have to adapt to local specificities to be validated.
Our next big thing will be the North American market. The procedures there are long and expensive. It is a huge market and we have to do everything (at the regulatory level, editor's note).
AWEX: What about the UK market? Is it a strategic market for you?
XD: It is a market that I know well, having personally worked in several multinationals from this country. It is an interesting market for Walloon medtechs because there is a lot of potential. The UK has private medicine and surgery like we do, but they also have the National Health Service (NHS), the largest public hospital health care system in the world. In other words, if you can work with these stakeholders...
And let's not forget that there are significant resources on the other side of the Channel and that the British business culture and networks are assets for doing business there and elsewhere in the world! The UK market is really a door opener to other international markets for medtechs. We are clearly creating credibility in these innovative markets.
AWEX: Has Brexit not complicated trade too much?
XD: Brexit changed the rules a bit for us, but honestly, it was mostly complicated for our partners across the Channel. They had a few stressful spikes at the beginning, but the price has recovered and the main export issues in the UK are the same as everywhere else now. The regulatory aspects will certainly be the most complicated points on both sides of the Channel.
AWEX: What are you expecting from the current royal economic mission to the UK?
XD: Firstly, we will officially sign a partnership with our partner, Severn Healthcare, to distribute our CADISS® system in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. For us, this contract signature is the start of a very strong partnership in a very competitive market.
Secondly, this mission should help us to find local partners (venture capitalists) for our capital increase. Partners who are not always accessible, but who appreciate medtechs and disruptive technological solutions like ours.
Lastly, the mission itself is important because it shows our distributor, our partners and our leads that we have a great innovation ecosystem and an international production capacity in Wallonia. We show them that they were right to trust us. And, between us, it is interesting for them because they have the opportunity to be in contact with wonderful British prospects that they would not have had the chance to meet without this Belgian mission.
Ultimately, the entire Belgian and Walloon medtech ecosystem gains visibility and credibility thanks to this exercise.
AWEX: Thank you Xavier. Finally, do you have any advice to give to a European SME that is launching on the English market?
XD: Here's a little tip that is purely business, but holds true almost all the time. Don't rush your leads, prospects or partners. If you push them too much, they will think you have a hidden concern and become suspicious. However, once you have gained trust and confirmed your deal, you have to get to the point and convince them very quickly. In Great Britain, everything happens very fast, there are enough opportunities and we don't like to wait. Adapting to the local business culture is a strength that not everyone has.