Ottobock Buys Boston-Based “Active” Prosthetic Maker BionX

BionX Medical Technologies, a Boston-area company that makes a prosthetic foot and ankle product that uses robotics technology, has been acquired by Ottobock, a German prosthetics company with North American headquarters in Austin, TX.

The deal was announced earlier this month. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, so it’s hard to tell how good an outcome it is for investors and shareholders. BionX raised more than $60 million in equity and debt funding since its inception, including $17 million in late 2015. The company’s investors include General Catalyst, WFD Ventures, Sigma Partners, Gilde Healthcare, and ZGC Shiner Investment.

BionX was founded as iWalk in 2006 by Hugh Herr, an MIT Media Lab professor who runs the school’s Center for Extreme Bionics and who himself is a double amputee below the knees. The company’s device, called the Empower Ankle, uses robotics to propel an amputee forward while adapting to his or her walking style; the actively driven ankle joint tries to replace the function of muscles and tendons. Ottobock says the device can give the user more energy while walking.

Ottobock is interested in using Empower to eventually develop prosthetics that can connect to nerves in the lower limbs and thus let amputees control the device more naturally—a process the company says is known as targeted muscle reinnervation, or TMR. Ottobock says that kind of TMR fitting is already possible in the upper limbs.

BionX’s device adapts to a user’s walking, using various integrated sensors and microprocessors to determine the energy, resistance, and bend the ankle joint should take for every step, Ottobock says. Duderstadt, Germany-based Ottobock has been acquiring other “mechatronic” products and companies, such as a prosthetic arm called bebionic that it bought in February from British medtech company Steeper.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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