Interview with Denys Gurak: A.D.A.M. and 3D Printed Bones

Denys Gurak is an experienced C-level manager and serial entrepreneur. He is a CEO and Co-Founder at A.D.A.M., a 3D bioprinting company with a primary focus on 3D-printed bones. Denys’s ultimate vision is to build an on-demand personalized tissue manufacturing platform that would be a one-stop shop for transplanted tissues and organs; and, hence, to cut barriers to medical treatment for millions. Denys’s passion for biotech can be traced back to 2010, when he was leading the international relations and certification, along with EU legislation adaptation at the Ukrainian medicinal products regulatory authority (official position – director of the «GMP/GDP Center» of the State Administration of Ukraine on Medicinal Products (SAUMP). In 2014 Denys joined the Ukrainian Defense Industry (a state defense conglomerate) in 2014 as the Deputy Director-General for foreign economic activity. During his time at the company, he managed the export-import operations that amounted to USD 1 billion yearly turnovers. Furthermore, Denys represented Ukraine as the Head of Ukraine’s delegation to the NATO Industrial Advisory Group (NIAG), and led the industry transformation initiatives, including innovations development and technology JVs, as well international relations. Denys is a Venture Partner at ff Venture Capital a high-performing early-stage venture firm based in NYC and Warsaw, Poland, focusing on disruptive IT, biotechnology, aerospace, and security projects in CEE region. Denys will be speaking at the upcoming 3D Printing and Bioprinting Bone virtual event.

When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing?

Denys: My first encounter with 3D printing was in 2017, during my work in the Ukrainian Defense Industry. I still remember the moment vividly, as it completely changed the way I thought about manufacturing. I was amazed as I watched parts for military equipment being mass-produced using this incredible technology. Witnessing the 3D printer in action was a truly transformative experience.

As I observed the printer at work, I couldn’t help but think about the possibilities that this technology could unlock. The fact that you could create virtually any shape or design using a 3D printer was mind-boggling to me. It opened up a whole new world of creativity and innovation that I had never considered before. I was also struck by the potential implications for industries like aerospace and medicine, where 3D printing could revolutionize the way we approach manufacturing.

Overall, my first encounter with 3D printing was a truly eye-opening experience. It gave me a glimpse into the future of manufacturing and left me feeling excited about the endless possibilities that this technology presents.

What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing/bioprinting?

Denys: My journey into 3D printing (specifically in the field of bio-fabrication/bio-printing) was inspired by a combination of my diverse career experiences and a fortuitous encounter with a talented engineering team. Over the course of my career, I had gained valuable insights into deep technologies development while working in the Ukrainian Defense Industry and had also experienced the structural changes taking place in healthcare industries while serving as the Director of the GMP Center of the Ukrainian Medicinal Products Regulatory Agency. I had even written my MBA thesis on streamlining generics manufacturing and creating new business models using off-the-shelf molecules.

In 2018, I had the opportunity to meet an engineering team in Ukraine that had developed a BJP 3D printer and had gone through the Techstars acceleration program. They had discovered a medical application for bone implant printing and it immediately clicked in my mind that bringing this product to the market was a matter of building a proper Quality Management System.

We began to ideate on the product from a vision of creating an infrastructure for on-demand printing of human tissues in hospitals starting from bones, as the first doable technology to prove the concept. The more we worked on the project, the more it made sense. It was clear that there was a significant need in the healthcare industry for this technology, and the potential applications were enormous.

Overall, my passion for 3D printing in the field of bio-fabrication/bio-printing was born out of a desire to apply my knowledge and experience to cutting-edge technology that could revolutionize the healthcare industry. The experience of working with the talented engineering team and seeing the potential for real-world impact was truly inspiring and motivated me to pursue this career path.

Who inspired you the most along this journey ?

Denys: Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to meet many people who have played a vital role in shaping my career. I have always taken the opportunity to learn from them because a conversation with an experienced and successful individual can be just as valuable as attending a top university course.

One of the most influential people I have met is Dr. Anthony Tether, a former DARPA Director, with whom I began working in 2016. At the time, he was advising the Ukrainian Defense Industry on developing a framework for technological cooperation between Ukrainian engineering capabilities and the West. Dr. Tether has always shared a fascinating story of how DARPA emerged during the Cold War, basically thanks to the contributions of Ukrainian aerospace engineer Serhii Koroliov, who built the first space rocket that launched Sputnik in the 1950s. It was such a significant moment of the US realizing that the technological edge should always be maintained, that the then President Eisenhower ordered the creation of DARPA, to ensure that the US never fell behind in developing strategic technologies. Today, we witness the world as we know it with GPS, internet, and AI, all thanks to DARPA’s efforts.

Currently, Dr. Tether is the Chief Scientific Advisor at A.D.A.M. and has consistently pushed our team to think beyond what is currently possible and explore new territories. He has given me confidence that Ukraine can take its rightful place on the global techno scene.

Dr. Philip Karber is another mentor who has had a significant impact on my career. As the President of Potomac Foundation, former Head of Strategy at the Department of Defense, and strategic advisor to NATO, governments, and corporations. On the industry side, Dr. Karber was involved in creating BDM Corporation, a technology development powerhouse for the DoD, which was later acquired by Ford Aerospace and Northrop Grumman. As such, he played a critical role in developing the A.D.A.M. strategy.  His knowledge and experience have been invaluable in shaping my thinking, not just at A.D.A.M., but in life in general. Dr. Karber currently serves as the Founding Chairman of A.D.A.M.’s Advisory Board. 

It is important to note that one of A.D.A.M.’s primary objectives is providing advanced medical treatment to wounded soldiers and other patients with common polytrauma, bringing sophisticated treatment closer to the battlefield and our product, a Point-of-Care Medical Device Production System was ideated with a view to serve war-wounded as one of target group of patients.

Many people from the medical and surgical fields have contributed significantly to developing our product, market fit, and go-to-market strategy.

Two individuals who have made particularly noteworthy contributions are our current Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Carl Savory, who served as the first Command Surgeon of the Joint Special Operations Command of the US and former Assistant Chief of Orthopaedics at Walter Reed, and Dr. Benjamin Rapoport, the Head of Sinai Biodesign at Mount Sinai, our main hospital partner in the US. Their expertise and guidance have been invaluable to us in developing our product and expanding our reach.

Overall, my understanding of sophisticated technology development processes has been heavily influenced by US defense development methodologies, which have become the foundation for our startup development methodologies at A.D.A.M. I am grateful for the support and guidance of these exceptional individuals, without whom I would not have been able to achieve what I have today.

Photo credit: A.D.A.M.

What motivates you the most for your work? 

Denys: Since my first encounters with strategic mentors in the US, I have made it my personal goal to showcase the talent of Ukrainian engineers to the world, and it is the driving force behind why I founded A.D.A.M. 

I believe that Ukraine has the potential to become a global R&D center, as its tech talent possesses a unique ability to provide value to the world in deep tech engineering in the interest toon of software and hardware.

Throughout history, Ukrainian engineers have made significant contributions to developing breakthrough technologies that have shaped the world as we know it today. For example, Igor Sikorsky, the inventor of the first helicopters, and Lubomyr Romankiw, who co-invented and developed magnetic thin-film storage heads in the 1970s, which revolutionized information storage on hard drives and enabled personal computers to exist, are just a few examples of what Ukrainian engineers can achieve with the right tools and support.

Through A.D.A.M., my aim is to create a successful example of sophisticated engineering that can thrive in the global market, and in doing so, contribute towards my goal of showcasing the potential of Ukrainian engineering talent to the world

What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions? 

Denys: The biggest obstacle in the line of work of developing A.D.A.M. has been convincing people that it is a tangible solution and not just a lofty dream. The belief that creating something as complex as A.D.A.M. requires reinventing the wheel or developing entirely new technologies has been a persistent challenge. However, the solution is actually quite simple – implementing a proper Quality Management System (QMS), which is a tool to integrate and develop technologies iteratively, rather than reinventing the wheel. By integrating and improving existing technologies into a holistic solution and a new business model, significant efficiencies and cost-cutting benefits can be achieved.

To overcome this obstacle, patience, persistence, and hard work have been essential. Listening to different perspectives, taking them into account, implementing feedback, and closing the loop have been vital to ensuring a successful outcome. Collaboration with other organizations in the tech and medical industries has also been crucial to developing a solution that meets the needs of all stakeholders.

Overall, implementing a QMS from day one of the company’s inception and following a structured approach have been key to overcoming this challenge and making A.D.A.M. a reality. By keeping an open mind, staying committed to the vision, and adapting quickly to changing circumstances, significant progress has been made in bringing A.D.A.M. to life.

What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Denys: One of the biggest challenges in 3D printing in healthcare and bio-printing is the cost inefficiencies associated with the current approaches. While innovation is essential, it should not lead to an increase in the prices of 3D printed products. Moreover, the industry’s conservatism and regulatory lag behind technological advancements result in slow adoption. Additionally, stakeholders have different interests that need to be bridged.

Furthermore, COVID has highlighted supply chain inefficiencies, which have been a challenge in the industry for a while.

The potential solutions to these challenges lie in new business models that combine new technology and market realities. One such model is the one that A.D.A.M. is implanting – a mergence between the service and platform models, which are already gaining traction in the 3D printing industry. Service models, which comprise the biggest chunk of the market, offer customization and flexibility to customers without the need for capital-intensive investments. Platform models, on the other hand, provide access to a network of suppliers and resources, which can help to optimize the supply chain and reduce costs.

Overall, the key to overcoming these challenges in 3D printing/bio-printing lies in finding new business models that strike a balance between innovation, cost efficiency, and stakeholder interests while adapting to changing market realities. This will require collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders, including industry players, regulators, and customers, to build a sustainable and efficient ecosystem for 3D printing in healthcare and bio-printing.

If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be? 

Denys: My first and only wish as a Ukrainian would be for Ukraine to achieve victory as soon as possible. As a Ukrainian, it’s difficult to think about anything else on a global scale when such a massive injustice is happening in my own country.

I know that many of my fellow citizens evaluate their actions based on whether they contribute to or detract from the ultimate aim of achieving victory and we all function now as one collective mind.  

What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore? 

Denys: Focus on their goals, stay true to their values, and be open to learning from others. Essentially, if a person giving the advice does not match your own values, all pieces of advice coming from them should be intoned.

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