Dr. Ross brings more than 20 years of biomedical research, management and regulatory experience in regenerative medicine, biologics, and medical devices to Miromatrix including concept development, preclinical, clinical, manufacturing, and commercialization. He has held various technical and management positions at Guidant, Athersys and SurModics.
Since coming to Miromatrix in 2010 he has been pivotal in the development, manufacturing and regulatory clearance of the innovative MIROMESH and MIRODERM product lines. He has spearheaded development, global patent strategy, and fundraising for the revolutionary whole organ transplant program and its key decellularization technology. Dr. Ross has over 30 patents along with scientific publications in Nature and other peer reviewed journals. He holds a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from the University of Minnesota.
What does participating in the KidneyX program mean for Miromatrix?
We’re thrilled to be chosen as a KidneyX prize recipient! It’s such an honor to be recognized for the groundbreaking work we’re doing to develop fully functional transplantable kidneys. Today, more than 700,000 Americans are living with kidney failure that requires dialysis or transplantation. Unfortunately, less than half of the patients who start dialysis will survive five years, while those fortunate to receive a kidney transplant have a survival rate over 90%. Our mission is to dramatically reduce the number of patients on dialysis, as well as save millions of lives by eliminating the kidney transplant waiting list. By working together with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology, we hope we can reach that goal faster.
Since taking over as CEO in 2017, what has surprised you most?
I originally went into science because of a desire to help people and to ultimately impact their lives by providing better therapies. Being CEO allows me to have a greater ability to deliver on that mission, and the technology that we are working on brings the potential to a whole new level. While I always appreciated the need for transplantable organs, I have been surprised by the outpouring of emails from patients in need of new organs and their personal stories. This is both incredibly motivating and humbling at the same time.
In organ regeneration, we often hear about liver programs because of the liver’s innate regenerative ability. How has working with livers informed your work with kidneys?
The liver is unique as it’s the only organ that can regenerate. However, for the 40,000 patients who die annually in the U.S. due to liver failure, their livers have lost this potential for a variety of reasons. To make matters worse, outside of transplant, there are no dialysis, devices, or drug options for these patients, which is why we chose the liver as our lead organ.
We are making great progress on our liver program and have found that many of the methods developed for the liver program can be directly applied to our kidney program, saving us valuable development time. Our other key liver development area is thanks to our novel acellular-based products — MIROMESH® and MIRODERM®— which are derived from pig livers using our same patented perfusion decellularization technology. These products have allowed us to demonstrate the vast potential of decellularized organs. While both are being used to meet other important healthcare needs, such as wound management and soft tissue repair and reinforcement, the data we’ve collected from them helps derisk our approach for transplantable organs and provides the initial data to support starting with a pig matrix as a safe approach.
As such, we’ve seen that pig organs can effectively be decellularized, leaving behind all of the organ’s natural design and architecture. In turn, the work we presented at KidneyX demonstrates our ability to revascularize the whole kidney with human endothelial cells and achieve sustained perfusion, which is a large step forward for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.
How have your conversations with investors changed from your previous raises?
The reaction we see and hear from people all over the world continues to be excitement! When possible investors and collaborators see how we can decellularize then recellularize an organ, in conjunction with our solid preclinical data, they’re incredibly interested. They see the potential to alleviate one of the major healthcare issues in the world: not having enough transplantable organs.
How has the company’s history with the University of Minnesota been beneficial?
The University of Minnesota has been very supportive and encouraging in our efforts! Our breakthrough process of perfusion decellularization and recellularization was developed there, and several members of our talented team come from the U of M. It all helps us accelerate our goals.
What’s the biggest blind spot in healthcare today?
850 million people worldwide are currently affected by kidney diseases and more than 40 million are Americans. In addition, it’s estimated every 10 minutes someone is added to the national transplant waiting list. Unfortunately, 22 people die every day while waiting for an organ to become available. The need for alternative therapies and solutions is dire! Our ultimate goal is to develop fully functional transplantable kidneys, livers, and hearts, so these life-saving organs can be game changers for those in need.
Why is a presence in Medical Alley critical to your company?
One of the biggest advantages that comes from being based in Minnesota is the large talent pool we have here. From the U of M to the Mayo Clinic, we have access to world-class collaborators and resources. Plus, there’s an excitement about biotechnology advancements in our local market that gives us more visibility and fuels our efforts.
What is one piece of technology that has made your life easier recently?
All of the satellites and cell phone towers that connect me with my family and colleagues while I’ve been traveling! I love meeting one-on-one with new investors and collaborators all over the world, and technology also allows me to still be a part of what’s going on back here at home.
What is the one thing, other than time or money, you wish you had more of?
A crystal ball! In all seriousness, we always have a need for highly passionate and skilled scientists who are motivated by our mission and want to make a difference.