22 Jan Boston orthopedic technology firm courts Wisconsin investors for possible move
Boston, Mass. – Former Wisconsin biotech executive Sal Braico, now CEO of the Boston-based Flex Biomedical, says his new company would move to Madison if it secures angel funding from Wisconsin investors.
Braico, the former chief operating officer of ConjuGon, a Madison biotechnology company that is developing technology to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, told WTN that Flex Biomedical is looking for $750,000 in new capital to advance development of its lead product, a polymer-based treatment for osteoarthritis.
“Where we run the company from is dependent on where we get capital from,” Braico stated, noting it hasn`t been easy to raise angel funding. “It’s very clearly time for us to raise capital, but I’ve been in this business now for almost eight years and this is by far the most difficult time I’ve seen to raise capital.”
Osteoarthritis, one of the most common forms of arthritis, is a degenerative joint disease in which cartilage and synovial fluids break down, often resulting in painful bone-on-bone contact, especially in weight-bearing joints of the knee and hip.
An estimated 200 million people suffer from the condition worldwide, including 27 million people in the United States and 90 million people in the world’s seven largest markets. It is especially troublesome in aging populations, particularly as people put on weight.
There is no cure for the osteoarthritis, so a number of imperfect treatments have been developed to alleviate pain and discomfort in what has become a $5 billion annual market.
Flex Biomedical’s lead product, now in the pre-clinical testing phase, is a “viscosupplement” made from a synthetic polymer that is injected into the joints of the knee and hip. Braico said the polymer is superior to existing treatments because it provides better cushion, better lubrication, and it lasts longer.
Based on the results of in vitro and in vivo tests, the company also believes the polymer can protect the cartilage from further degradation and slow down the progression of osteoarthritis.
“We want to provide longer pain relief and enable people to put off having knee or hip-replacement surgery,” said Braico, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate. The latter, he noted, only lasts about 10 to 15 years.
The polymer was developed by Flex Biomedical co-founders Mark Grinstaff, professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University and an orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital in Boston, and Michel Wathier, a senior scientist at the university. Grinstaff serves as a scientific advisor to Flex Biomedical, while Wathier is vice president of research and development.
Current hyaluronic acid-based therapies, produced by pharmaceutical giants like Genzyme and Johnson & Johnson, are liquids that are injected into the knee to improve the viscosity of synovial fluid. The injections are designed to improve lubrication, reduce pain and swelling in the joint, and build cartilage depth.
With about $250 million in annual sales, Genzyme’s Synvisc product is the leading viscosupplement sold in the U.S.
The problem, according to Braico, is that such products have never been shown to remain in the joint long enough – on or two days at most – to improve joint lubrication and protect cartilage. He said clinical trial data indicates that hyaluronic acid was only eight percent more effective than a placebo.
Other treatments, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and Cox-2 inhibitors, have gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects, according to Flex Biomedical.
Putting on a clinic
Flex Biomedical already has received $175,000 in Phase I small business innovation research (SBIR) funding, and $200,000 from Boston University’s venture fund. The company also has applied for a Phase II SBIR grant.
With more capital, Flex Biomedical hopes to move the polymer into clinical trials in late 2010. Given the need created by an aging population, and the limitations of existing treatments, Braico said the polymer technology is a great investment opportunity.
Flex Biomedical’s staff also includes COO Hideki Suzuki, a former ConjuGon vice president, and Brian Snyder, an associate professor at Harvard University and an orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
Braico said the company would develop other products for the orthopedic space, but for now is “100 percent focused on the polymer.”