Q&A with Michael Mazen Jafar of Desktop Health
Desktop Metal has burst onto the dental scene this year, acquiring EnvisionTEC and then adding a new business line, Desktop Health, dedicated to the dental, orthodontic, and otolaryngology markets. Desktop Health President and CEO Michael Mazen Jafar says the goal is to take EnvisionTEC’s industry-leading technology and reinvigorate it with a new approach to doing business. The recent release of FlexceraTM, a new resin for the fabrication of beautiful, functional dentures with three times the toughness of competitor denture material and lifelike tooth translucency, is making waves but is just the start of what Desktop Health plans to bring to dentistry, Jafar says. Inside Dental Technology sat down with the healthcare veteran to discuss that and more in a wide-ranging interview.
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): What should people in the dental profession know about Desktop Health?
Michael Jafar: We are a technology company looking to personalize medicine across many verticals. Our core business will always be dental, due to the speed of innovation and the history of EnvisionTEC’s dental business, which we acquired and expect to be the driver of our growth in the dental space. We also have a line of sight to expand in orthopedics, ophthalmology, dermatology, plastic surgery, and cardiology. As an organization, we have approximately 225 materials, including metals, composites, polymers, ceramics, biocompatible materials, and more. And in the news recently, Desktop Metal developed a product called Forust that provides the capability of 3D printing wood. We also recently completed the acquisition of a great company called Adaptive3D, which adds elastomers (rubber) to our portfolio. One of the polymers we recently released for dental applications is Flexcera, and we are really proud of that product. Approximately 2 years of work went into that product, which was developed, tested, and selected from over 200 formulations. The product is three times stronger than one of the most popular denture base materials on the market, and two times more resistant to water. So it is a great value proposition and the next era of what Desktop Health will be releasing in terms of innovation and R&D.
IDT: With so many 3D printing companies on the market, why did you find EnvisionTEC to be an attractive investment?
Jafar: There were two main reasons. First and foremost, EnvisionTEC founded DLP, which is the gold standard of 3D printing. Between DLP and its sister technology cDLM, the innovation and the investment that has been made over 18 years in that company was hard to match. The dental know-how with a company that entered dentistry in 2007 also positions them as a leader in that space. The second reason was the opportunity—the opportunity to scale a business and the opportunity to resource the business was a perfect marriage. That is the sweet spot of our acquisition strategy: Second to none in leading technology, and in need of scale.
IDT: What are some of the most promising applications for 3D printing in dentistry, and why?
Jafar: I recently came across a survey that indicated that three-quarters of all 3D printed parts are for models for crown-and-bridge. That will likely remain the case until technology catches up. Approximately 30% is final crowns and bridges; I would like to see that number inverse as technology, resin, and systems become that much more accurate and permanent. That is a little glimpse of the future.
IDT: How much research has been put into testing Flexcera and other resins for permanent restorations? The ability to adapt positively to the oral environment has been such a challenge.
Jafar: The reason why I am so proud of this Flexcera launch is because, over the course of the past two years, the team has done their due diligence to extract the correct and necessary data. We have tested this product in 37°C conditions for 2 days to try to mimic the atmosphere within the mouth. We have tested it against leading products on the market. Not only did we test for water absorption, but we also did a 48-hour coffee test to evaluate staining, stress fracture, brittleness. There is not a measure that is commonly requested that we did not put behind this launch.
IDT: When you talk about printing wood and the various other things Desktop Health and Desktop Metal are doing, how can that perspective and that broad 3D printing expertise help advance the technology for dentistry?
Jafar: I spent 20-plus years in healthcare, and the team that we have is deeply rooted in healthcare. The relationship between an engineer-led organization like EnvisionTEC with true ingenuity, complemented with a strong healthcare know-how, has given us an advantage. This industry is complicated, and it is hard for the average dental professional to make sense of all of this, let alone adopt this technology and change their workflow. The beauty of the healthcare space is that there are many talented individuals who understand how to consumerize healthcare. That is what you are seeing with the Flexcera launch and many more to come: It is much more desirable content to take in, and easier to ingest. The goal is to merge a wide range of materials, hardware, and software to simplify the end user’s life. Right now, it is a bit fragmented. The beauty of where we sit as an organization is we have or will soon have most of that expertise within our reach. Lastly, from an R&D standpoint, I really love interacting with customers because their mind of innovation is probably years ahead of anyone looking at it through an R&D lens. They are in the trenches. I spent most of the weekend talking to two dentists about the use of hybrid cases with metals and photopolymers. There are not many companies that have the capabilities to produce polymer-based machines and resin as well as metals, and now we are thinking about what that looks like. That innovation environment will lend itself to more disruptive products coming to the market faster.
IDT: What are some of the challenges that dentistry prevents that you have found to be unique? Is one the fact that some of these printed parts need to go in the oral environment?
Jafar: Forunately, the FDA provides a very clear path for approval; anything beyond their requirements just strengthens a product. Other than that, I would once again refer to software, hardware, and materials—as an industry, it is a rather complicated dance. I cannot imagine what it feels like to be a customer trying to navigate 3D printing in dentistry. I recently watched a relatively innovative young dentist trying to figure out how to upload intraoral scans to the cloud so that a laboratory could receive and print them, and that exercise required multiple phone calls, text messages, and emails. The relationship needs to be simplified for this to scale.
IDT: What are dental professionals demanding most in 3D printing?
Jafar: Get rid of milling and print zirconia. If we can accomplish those two things, it would be right in line with what customers are requesting. Additionally, because of our metals capabilities, I have recently heard a lot of questions about printing metal parts such as spider cases at a much lower cost, and increasing throughput on metals to make it really affordable. The noise around metals, within a quarter or two, will start to exponentially increase, because it is a cost- and time-consuming process. Lastly, it is hard to ignore the success some companies have had with clear aligners; considering the energy that is being exuded to develop a way to direct print aligners, I suspect that will be aligned with where the demand is going.
IDT: Not every laboratory is utilizing 3D printing, and on the clinical side, the adoption rate has been slower. What needs to be done to really bring 3D printing to the masses?
Jafar: First, I need to recognize how far ahead this profession is when compared to the rest of healthcare. There are many facets of healthcare that I am always enthralled and amazed by, but if you look at the ecosystem around dentistry and the adoption of technology, it is light years ahead. It is amazing to see what has been accomplished. However, to answer the question, the idea of simplification is necessary for this to scale. I subscribe to the notion of design thinking, based on three tenets. One is feasibility: The technology needs to work. Two is viability: You need to be able to afford it. Three is desirability: You need to consume it in an enjoyable, simple manner. You cannot scale unless you have touched on those three principles. Tesla is an example of a company that has done it successfully. This industry is primed for that. I am looking forward to working with our team to do it.