Biological implant man


Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 11:41 p.m.

The world of accounting wasn't providing enough excitement for Wade Tetsuka, even though he traveled half-way around the world to further his career in that industry.

Facts

WADE TETSUKA

General Manager of U.S. operations, Tutogen Medical Inc.

PERSONAL: single

CAR HE DRIVES: BMW 328i

LAST MOVIE SEEN: "Solaris"

LAST BOOK READ: "Business at the Speed of Thought," by Bill Gates

BEST ADVICE RECEIVED: "Never sell yourself short, and go for all your ambitions," from his father

HIS GUIDING LIGHT: To treat all my business partners fairly, whether it's a customer, vendor or employee.

While working for accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers in Germany, Tetsuka became intrigued with the medical device market. He landed a job with a firm that eventually brought him back to the U.S. in Phoenix, where he managed the operations of an ultrasound equipment company.

When that firm was sold, Tetsuka stepped into the general manager's position with Tutogen Medical Inc., which processes human tissue for use in surgical procedures. Tutogen is based in New Jersey but handles the bulk of its U.S. operations in Alachua, where Tetsuka can be found supervising the production of tissue-based implants for spine correction, dental repair and other forms of rehabilitation.

"The more you're involved in this industry, the more you realize there are a lot of solutions to treating health problems," said Tetsuka, 39. "Until I got into this segment of the industry, I didn't realize how much of a role that biologics play."

Biologics, or materials based from living organisms, are what drives business at Tutogen. Rather than use metals or synthetics, Tutogen takes donated human tissue and processes it to be surgically implanted in patients who are suffering from back ailments or dental decay, for example.

One of Tutogen's neighbors in Alachua, Regeneration Technologies Inc., works in the same industry. And although their product lines are different, both companies process and sell allografts, or material recovered from human donors for transplant into other humans.

Long before Tetsuka got involved in biologics, he appeared destined for a career in accounting. A Los Angeles native, Tetsuka earned a degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

He became licensed as a certified public accountant, or CPA, in 1985 and took a job with Ernst & Young in California. He stayed there until 1989, but then discovered he wanted a little bit more out of life than balancing books.

"I wanted to get some real-life experiences," Tetsuka said. "I dropped what I was doing and applied for some jobs in Europe."

Tetuska went to Germany, where he didn't know a soul or a bit of the country's language. Undeterred, he took the position with PricewaterhouseCoopers and was also able to participate in a bit of history.

"I was there when the Berlin Wall came down," he said. "To be able to stand on the wall, and be there for something like that, is something I'll never forget."

Tetsuka spent a total of nine years in Germany. In 1998, he left PricewaterhouseCoopers to work for Dornier, a medical device company that eventually transferred him to Phoenix to head up its ultrasound division.

After reading some materials about Tutogen, Tetuska became interested in the company and applied for its general manager position in Alachua. He has been in that slot since April 2002.

"I was fascinated with the work at Tutogen," he said. "They make purely biological products. In this day and age, people want natural products as opposed to titanium or other materials."

Tutogen, a publicly-traded company on the American Stock Exchange under the symbol "TTG," earns about 50 percent of its revenues in the U.S., Tetsuka said. The company has 40 employees in Alachua, and also operates divisions in France and Germany.

The company's dental implant, for example, is used in procedures to repair cavities and other dental ailments. The implant acts as a brace for the metal abutment that holds the new tooth in place.

The technology that's being practiced at Tutogen is a prime example of what business leaders want to see more of in Alachua County, said Brent Christensen, president and chief economic development officer for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

"I think Tutogen is poised for great growth in the biotech sector," Christensen said. "It fits remarkably well in the profile of companies we'd like to have around here. I'm impressed with Wade's background. He's got a lot of experience, and we'd like to get him involved in local development. I'm sure he'd have some pointers for us as we go down the road."

Finding tissue donors continues to be a challenge for companies like Tutogen, and that's why Tetsuka believes that the market will move toward the use of animal tissue in the future. Tutogen already sells some products that use tissue procured from bovine and equine donors, and Tetsuka said it's actually safer than using human tissue in many ways.

The use of animal tissue is also regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the donors are bred and supervised in controlled environments, Tetuska said. To this point, animal tissue has proven to be just as effective as human tissue, he said. "These animals are part of controlled herds that are supervised by the FDA," he said. "It's just as safe as human tissue, and animal bone is actually more dense and stable than human donations. Using biologics is becoming a popular alternative. Knowing that it's a natural solution, who wouldn't choose that?"

Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or coombsj@gvillesun.com.

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