Media Coverage

Askel looks to ramp up manufacturing of joint regeneration device

Feb 26, 2018 - Animal Pharm
By Sian Lazell 
Animal Pharm
February 26, 2018

Finnish firm Askel Healthcare is looking for strategic partners to scale up the manufacturing of its medical device to treat osteoarthritis in companion animals.

The company recently presented its COPLA Scaffold device at the Animal Health Investment Europe Forum, where it placed as a runner up for the Innovation Showcase Award.

Askel claims the COPLA Scaffold is the only medical device capable of true cartilage regeneration. Explaining the development of the device, Askel's chief executive and co-founder Virpi Muhonen said: "Cartilage lesions and osteoarthritis are one of the main causes of functional impairment and pain globally.

"There are approximately one billion people suffering from osteoarthritis. Companion animals have the same problem but for them, it's often the question of life and death.

"Around one in five dogs will have osteoarthritis at some point in their life. This means there are around 80 million dogs with osteoarthritis in the US alone and about $1 billion is spent annually to treat canine knee injuries. Around 60% of lameness in horses is due to osteoarthritis. So cartilage problems are a huge issue in companion animals.

"We want to bring a new standard-of-care to the business. We have spent the last seven years in academia researching cartilage and researching how to fix that specific tissue. Our short-term mission is to bring a superior cartilage repair device to the veterinary market and later on, also bring that to humans.

"Cartilage is a tricky tissue. When it gets damaged, it doesn't have the capacity to heal and little by little, cartilage lesions get worse. After a few years, the patient has osteoarthritis, so the whole joint is diseased. At the moment, the only treatment for osteoarthritis is total joint replacement surgery. This is something we want to avoid.

"We want to treat cartilage lesions before they get to something worse and we want to treat those small lesions straight away. For that, we have created a medical device called the COPLA scaffold. It's a cartilage regeneration device."

The COPLA scaffold is designed to be adaptive to the load-bearing conditions in the weight-bearing joints, alongside providing the correct environment for cartilage tissue to regenerate and heal.

During her presentation at the London forum, Ms Muhonen showed attendees a scan of a cartilage lesion in the stifle joint of a horse, next to a scan of the same joint showing complete regeneration of tissue after being treated with the COPLA Scaffold.  

The technology works by filling the lesion with the scaffold then using stem cells taken from bone marrow that attach to the scaffold. Ms Muhonen said the biomechanics created by the device give a cue to the stem cells to generate cartilage.

"We have demonstrated excellent cartilage repair after three months. And histology has shown it is actually cartilage, not scar tissue, that has been created," she said.

"There are treatments for cartilage repair at the moment but they are more or less temporary and not able to recreate the proper tissue. Of course, secondary pharmaceuticals like painkillers dominate the market for osteoarthritis.

"All the competition at the moment for us comes more or less from indirect routes. We are the only treatment at present that can regenerate and heal the tissue, not only treat the symptoms."

Equity investment needed

Over the last few months, Askel has been selling the device to orthopedic veterinary surgeons in Finland, with positive feedback. The device is being sold to veterinarians at €600 ($739).

The firm is now working to target dogs in the UK and Ireland and later in the year, plans to begin equine sales. In total, the firm expect revenues upwards of €4 million over seven years.

At present, Askel is looking for equity investment – with a seed round of financing ongoing – in addition to finding strategic partners to bolster its manufacturing unit in Finland. Ms Muhonen said the product will be easy to scale-up and when it has achieved its current objectives, the firm will then look to target the US companion animal market.  

Established in 2017, Askel has a team of five employees and is located in Helsinki. Ms Muhonen holds a PhD in cell biology with a strong background in orthopedic research. 

Reprinted with permission of Animal Pharm News




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