Allen Chang leading production of novel biomaterial technology for Vertera Spine
Allen Chang is in elite company. The former Georgia Institute of Technology student, who earned his undergraduate degree from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering in 2008, was named recently to the Forbes 2016 30 Under 30 list in the Manufacturing and Industry sector.
Chang, 29, is co-founder of Vertera Spine, a company that is working on unique spine solutions featuring its novel biomaterial, PEEK Scoria™ – a porous surface technology made entirely out of polyetheretherketone (PEEK).
He was one of 600 people selected across 20 sectors (from a pool of more than 15,000 candidates) to make the Forbes list, now in its fifth year. The honorees represent a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators that are pushing the boundaries in their respective industries by taking disruptive approaches to solve difficult problems.
“I'm honored to be included in this extraordinary group of talented people,” Chang says. “I'm also grateful for the opportunity to work at Vertera Spine with a team of passionate engineers, scientists, clinicians and business people.”
PEEK Scoria was developed in the lab of Ken Gall at Georgia Tech. Gall is a former faculty researcher at the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. He now heads the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University, and is a co-founder of Vertera Spine, where Chang invented a method for manufacturing the porous PEEK material, so that it could be commercialized.
The company plans a commercial launch of the COHERE™ Cervical Interbody Fusion Device, its first PEEK Scoria product cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), later this year. Chang has high hopes for the product’s success.
“PEEK is a well-known polymer, it’s widely used, but it doesn’t integrate really well with bone,” Chang says. “But our porous device has been shown to elicit a positive response in a body. With PEEK Scoria, we’re solving the integration problem.”
Though he never worked in Gall’s lab while attending Georgia Tech, Chang did take the professor’s ‘Principles and Applications of Engineering Materials’ course, and it made an impression. “That was one of my favorite classes,” he says.
After earning his Master of Engineering from Boston University, Chang returned to Atlanta and worked at MedShape, another startup company Gall co-founded.
“Allen’s role has been instrumental. He completely led the scale up efforts,” says Gall. “In addition to being a great engineer, he is a risk taker. Rather than short-term compensation, he opted to bet on the company’s long-term value and is a big equity owner because of this.”
So Chang is completely invested in the company’s success and is already looking ahead to the next challenge. Vertera Spine is developing a PEEK Scoria lumbar device, and Chang is leading that effort.
“Right now our major task is actually producing our cleared cervical device, so that surgeons can start implanting it into patients. I mean, that’s why we do this, to help patients,” says Chang, who was born in Taiwan and moved to Atlanta when he was 10.
He’s already got a background in helping to improve the human condition, having worked 10 months with AmeriCorps, rehabilitating houses in Gulf Coast states that were affected by Hurricane Katrina, and up-scaling the production of biodiesel. With Vertera Spine, he’s helping humanity in a different way, developing products that can actually replace bone.
“We’ve come a long way since founding the company over two years ago,” says Chang. “I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve as we develop additional product lines in spine and beyond.”