The recent growth of a local biotech startup is bringing smiles to a lot of faces.
Cagenix, a designer and manufacturer of restorative dentistry products, recently moved to a new office location, tripling its square footage.
“Some of our patients might be cancer patients or trauma patients or people who have struggled not with aesthetics, but with being able to eat or with the shape of their face,” said Daryl Newman, Cagenix’s CEO.
“I’ll get letters from people who had lost their lower jawbone due to cancer, and we created a brand new smile, a brand new ability to eat for them. That’s really exciting to me.”
The new office at 1680 Century Center Pkwy. near Bartlett is about 4,600 square feet, as opposed to the 1,500-square-foot space Cagenix just vacated.
The company’s signature product is the AccuFrame, a custom-designed titanium bar that connects to permanent implants in the jawbones and provides the framework for restorative dentures.
The bar itself has been used by prosthodontists for years, but more recent computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technology made creating them easier, faster and more accurate.
Dr. Carl Schulter, a prosthodontist who founded Cagenix, had been casting the bars for his own patients in the back of his office, using gold or other precious metals in a fairly messy process, which usually yielded imperfect results.
“Casting metal is very unpredictable,” Newman said. “It changes shape and they rarely fit. When you’re talking about the kind of accuracy to put a bar in, which is at the micron level, you’re always having to adjust.
“You’d put it in a patient’s mouth and it wouldn’t fit. You’d mark it, cut it, solder it back together and try again. It took two to four visits to get it right.”
Schulter, his son Drew and two colleagues, Denis DiAngelo and Earl Yanase, sat around a kitchen table one night in 2005 trying to come up with a better product and Cagenix was born.
Now dental molds of patients’ mouths with their implants are scanned with a high-resolution scanner, and the images are sent to a mill in Murfreesboro where they are cast in titanium with the assistance of computers.
Three-dimensional images of the bars are sent to prosthodontists for review before they are manufactured.
Turnaround time for one bar has dropped from three to four weeks to 10 business days and most patients only come in for one visit.
Newman said that good customer service and speed are fairly new to the industry.
“When you’re dealing with a treatment plan for a patient who’s been in the process for sometimes six to seven months, it’s important to communicate,” Newman said. “We spend a lot of time on that. You can make a great product, but if you don’t provide good service, it doesn’t matter.”
Cagenix manufactures 300 to 400 bars each month, with the bulk of its business occurring in states like Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California with high retiree populations.
Newman joined the company in 2009, just before the AccuFrame was put on the market.
“I had a philosophy that I’d rather go slow and get it right than do it fast and have to correct myself,” Newman said. “So we spent probably the first six to nine months testing the market, testing pricing, testing communication, testing our own internal processes to make sure that we were able to press the accelerator and avoid some the issues that start-up companies have.”
Cagenix is privately held, but has major investors such as Innova, the for-profit venture capital fund under the umbrella of the Memphis BioWorks Foundation.
Schulter is president of the company and sits on its board, but does not handle operations for the company. He remains in private practice.
Schulter has a number of other product patents for other dental components, which may turn into Cagenix products in the future, but Newman said so far the company is riding on steady revenue growth from the AccuFrame.
Whether or not the company will remain privately held, all options are on the table.
“As I told my investors and the board, my job is to create options for them both,” Newman said. “It’s to create a company that has the right kind of value that would support going public, or spin dividends off to the investors, or potentially exiting through an acquisition or merger.”