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Columbia Business Monthly

Cosmetic surgery material maker Surgiform finds a market in Asia

Oct 12, 2018 11:04AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By John McCurry

Photography ©2018 Brian Dressler /

The life sciences industry is full of small, niche firms formed to fill critical needs. That’s the case with Surgiform, a Lugoff-based company that moved to the Midlands in 2006. One of its primary products is surgiform facial augmentation material (SFAM), which is used in cosmetic surgery and reconstruction. The company also makes nasal splints and silicone implants for the face, as well a device that makes surgery safer for surgeons and patients.

The company was founded by renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Claire L. Straith following his return from World War I. He and colleagues are credited with the development of facial reconstruction techniques to treat battlefield injuries. His later work involved working with automobile accident victims. The company was founded in the Detroit area, and then moved to Cleveland.

Surgiform’s current president, Mat Fairfax, had worked with several life sciences companies before joining the facial implant maker in 2006; Surgiform had been one of his clients. In 2011, Fairfax moved the company to Lugoff.

Sales have grown steadily the past few years. Fairfax anticipates around $4.2 million this year, compared to $2.9 million last year and $1.4 million the year before. The company is in the process of tripling the size of its manufacturing facility to accommodate growth. The company employs 15 people, but Fairfax anticipates that number will grow in the coming years.

Eighty percent of Surgiform’s sales are international. Asia is by far the top export market, with strong sales in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan. Fairfax says cosmetic plastic surgery is a huge business in Asia, much more  than in the U.S. on a per capita basis. Sales in South America are strong, too.

Fairfax attributes the international growth to maturing economies and greater disposable income. Exported products primarily ship by air to distributors.

“Our reconstructive products, such as SFAM block and sheet, serve an important role in reconstructive procedures, allowing patients with traumatic injury or that have undergone tumor removal to restore their normal facial aesthetic,” Fairfax says.

Surgiform’s U.S. implant customers include individual plastic surgeons, hospitals, and surgery centers. About 80 percent is for plastic surgery with the remainder going for reconstructive procedures. The military is not a large market for Surgiform’s implants because they target soft tissue reconstruction.

Another mainstay Surgiform product is a smoke evacuation device, the SAF-T-VAC; it removes harmful electrocauteral smoke during surgery.

“Surgeons use a large pen with a metal blade on it when they do cauterization surgery,” Fairfax explains. “It stops the bleeding, but it generates smoke, which can be hazardous. Our device pulls smoke, blood, and fluids out of the surgical site. It prevents the operating room surgeon, nurses, and staff from inhaling potentially infected smoke. The smoke plume contains potentially viable viruses and it definitely contains carcinogens.”

The potential market for the device is strong, with an estimated 15 million electrocautery procedures performed in the U.S. annually.

Smoke evacuation is required by law in Canada and Europe but is not required by federal law in the U.S.  However, there are efforts by at least two states — California and Rhode Island — to mandate the use of smoke evacuation. Fairfax says this is becoming a major risk consideration for surgical facilities. Nurses are especially at risk because of the time they spend in operating rooms.

Another product is a non-absorbable suture made of biocompatible materials. This allows soft tissue to grow into it and is used in breast, dental, hernia, and cardiac procedures.

Surgiform has relied on SCBIO for industry information, but hasn’t forged partnerships with universities and technical schools due to the company’s size. While South Carolina’s life sciences sector is growing, there is a lingering challenge for companies to find talent. That hasn’t been critical for Surgiform to date since it’s a small company, but that will change with continued growth.

“It’s still hard for us to find people in the area with medical device experience, but most of our jobs are manufacturing jobs that don’t require that,” Fairfax says. “We have had a struggle filling leadership-type positions. Finding people with experience will be more important as we continue to grow. We’re starting to have some growing pains.”

With the nearby presence of large firms such as Nephron Pharmaceuticals and The Ritedose Corporation in the Columbia area and Zeus Industrial Products in Orangeburg, Fairfax believes a critical mass of medical device companies and suppliers is building and bodes well for the future.
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