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Success Story:

Spider-man spins web to create revolutionary bone and cartilage replacement


Nick Skaer

Bone transplants are evolving. The traditional materials used, such as titanium and plastic, could soon be replaced by revolutionary new spider-silk technology. Developed by a group of SMEs, with the help of EU funding, this new material cannot only be used to repair damaged bones but also damaged cartilage - something truly revolutionary.

Surprise discovery

Along the way, Dr Skaer and his team made an even more important discovery. Before mineralising the improved silk, the material they produced had the correct properties to act as a functional cartilage replacement - something that is probably unique in the medical world.

'Cartilage is one of the most frequently damaged tissues in the human body,' explains Dr Skaer 'and one of the most difficult to heal. We have almost no way of replacing it and it leads to major disability. There is a serious unmet clinical need, which our material could potentially resolve.'

This second material, which the team calls Spidrex, is believed to be the first and only material ever created to functionally replace damaged cartilage while allowing new cartilage tissue to regenerate through it. 'The preliminary results are enormously encouraging,' says Dr Skaer 'and as we have developed aseptic manufacture of Spidrex we'll be able to produce it to clinical standard in a very affordable manner'.

Seeking support

'Spidrex is a unique concept for cartilage repair,' Dr Skaer explains. 'While very exciting in itself, it gave us the necessary leverage and credibility to enter the crowded orthopaedic devices market and differentiate ourselves from other companies.'

With this in mind, Dr Skaer formed an exploitation vehicle to take their results forward and seek further investment. The vehicle is called Orthox Ltd and, so far, has received a EUR 1.8 million award from The Welcome Trust, the UK Biomedical Foundation , and EUR 100 000 from the UK government to continue developing the cartilage repair technology.

Orthox is now seeking a EUR 5.5 million investment from investors and various other funding programmes, including the EU's own 2011 Health call which the team is hopeful to receive. The aim is to have the technology in a human clinical trial in 2011 and on the market in 2012.

A total of eight partners worked on the Silkbone project including two other SMEs, Progentix from the Netherlands and 3H Biomedical from Sweden, and five academic institutions located in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.


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