The master of disguise

Dr. Michael Hoffmann is CEO and co-founder of Hemoteq AG, which is part of Freudenberg technology group. The researcher and entrepreneur started the company with an innovation derived from the natural world.

Mimesis is the camouflage manoever, animals use to adjust instantly to their surroundings.

If you had to name a master of disguise in the animal kingdom, an octopus would probably be one of the top contenders. Their ability to imitate colors and patterns with pigment cells renders them nearly invisible - and they can do this even though they are entirely color blind. This highly effective camouflage is called mimesis. Researchers use the term to describe how certain animals or plants can imitate their surroundings, for example to protect themselves. At Hemoteq, a Freudenberg Medical company, CEO Dr. Michael Hoffmann started to examine the phenomenon of mimesis in the 1990s, to see how it could help resolve technical issues. This laid the foundation for the company’s success as the world’s leading provider of coating technologies and services for the medical technology industry. Freudenberg medical is the global partner for the design, development and manufacture of innovative medical products.

Dr. Michael Hoffman, CEO and co-founder of Hemoteq

Nature as a role model

It all started when Hoffmann was working on his doctorate. Working at the University of Aachen’s Lehrstuhl für makromolekulare Chemie und Textilchemie, he examined the following: How can bovine blood vessels be used to make substances for blood-tolerant surfaces? “Applications include dialyzers, the main module in dialysis machines, that clean blood in renal replacement therapy. To prevent the blood from coagulating, it needs to feel - in the truest sense - that it is still in the body’s blood stream,” says Hoffmann. As far back as 1995, the research made him part of a circle of scientists, using the biomemisis of natural processes to find innovative technological solutions for people. “The idea was to coat a dialyzer's artificial surface with specially cultivated cell surfaces from bovine blood vessels and thus camouflage them when blood flowed by for cleaning.” It worked but could not be scaled for serial production.  The potential yield of cell substance using this method was simply too low. 

New focus

Another solution was needed. “We then shifted our focus from bovine blood vessels to the blood itself, because we thought the red blood cells must also have a substance that prevented coagulation.” Hoffmann was right. Treatment with the papain enzyme from the papaya fruit allowed the team to isolate a substance in the bovine blood, which had the same camouflage effect in the dialyzer and could be produced in much larger quantities. “It was our first business idea,” says Hoffmann, who joined forces with Horres in September 1999 to found Hemoteq as a startup before finishing his doctorate. The company name stems from the Ancient Greek word for blood, “haema”.  

Drug-administering stents are one of the products made at Hemoteq in Würselen.

First successful "Camouflage"

However, shortly thereafter a new hurdle arose for the now 49-year-old and his innovation. “The BSE scandal broke out a year later and our concept could no longer be implemented.” In the meantime, Hoffmann and his colleagues had gained a deep fundamental understanding and were able to use a similar animal-based substance, which had been used for medical applications since 1937: Heparin. “Using Heparin as the basis, we developed a special procedure for our first successful product and got it approved, the product was then used as a coating for a customer’s coronary stents.” The first product was appropriately named “Camouflage” and went on to enjoy ten years of market success under that name. Hoffmann can thus be justifiably deemed a master of disguise.

Perfect supplement

At the same time, the market for coatings was growing, particularly drug-delivering coatings. “We started working on these coatings very early and developed our concepts further,” says Hoffmann. The range for medical combination products - or products that combine mechanical functions with the delivery of pharmaceuticals - includes coatings for drug-delivering stents and drug-coated balloon catheters. Patients suffering a life-threatening vascular constriction have a drug-coated balloon catheter inserted in their blood vessel in a minimally invasive procedure. The balloon is inflated in the constricted areas, re-expanding the blood vessel.  Alternatively, a drug-delivering stent (a metal mesh, placed on the wall of the blood vessel) is inserted. The blood vessel is then kept continuously open. Balloon catheters and stents deliver drugs to the vessel wall and help prevent inflammation or irritation. Hemoteq thus perfectly augments the life-saving and life-improving Freudenberg Medical products that use minimally invasive systems as well as special components made from silicon, thermoplastics and metal, where coatings can optimize their properties for clinical usage.  

An implantable stent being coated with drugs to prevent scarring in the blood vessel.

Drug-administering stents are one of the products made at Hemoteq in Würselen.

Next milestones

In 2018, the Freudenberg experts successfully developed a new drug coating for implantable electrodes for the ENT market and increased the production volume for drug-coated catheters. It is now planned to transfer the underlying technology to new medical products. Together with its customers, Hemoteq is working on drug delivery coatings for implants the brain. The product range is growing and Hoffmann will have little time to devote to his passion for antique vehicles. He will still find time once in a while to take his treasures out for a spin. Hoffmann’s favorite vehicle is named after an animal from the natural kingdom that is great at camouflage: The 12-cylinder Panther J72, sold until 1981.

An implantable stent being coated with drugs to prevent scarring in the blood vessel.


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