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NIH Record

Cartilage Proteins Draw Commercial Attention

By Wayne Little

A recently discovered family of cartilage-forming proteins has drawn the attention of several biotechnology companies as a promising tool for repairing damaged joints. The rapid progression from laboratory to commercial development is the result of a team effort among scientists and technology transfer experts from NIDR and the Food and Drug Administration, and several commercial enterprises.

This is an example of a basic research finding making its way from the recesses of the laboratory to the threshold of commercial development and clinical application. Animal models, rare human disorders, and state-of-the-art laboratory technology have made possible the discovery and characterization of a new group of proteins that appear to play a critical role in forming the cartilage of joints.

NIDR's Dr. Frank Luyten and Dr. Malcolm Moos at FDA have identified a new group of proteins called cartilage-derived morphogenetic proteins, or CDMPs. The commercialization of these proteins, which is just under way, was made possible by a 1986 law requiring federal laboratories to quickly move new technologies to the private sector for further development -- the Federal Technology Transfer Act.

The research has resulted in joint NIH/FDA patent applications on two proteins, CDMP-1 and CDMP-2, and the issuance of licensing agreements to five companies. One of the companies, Genzyme, recently received FDA approval to test a new process for repairing knee cartilage. The procedure involves removing a sample of the patient's healthy cartilage, growing more cartilage from the sample in the laboratory, and then injecting the laboratory-grown cartilage into the injured site. The procedure is geared to younger people who have injured their knees in sporting or other accidents and whose injuries are confined to relatively small defects in the cartilage structure.

The use of CDMPs has broader application than the procedure currently being tested by Genzyme, according to Luyten. He foresees that CDMPs, in combination with the right mix of ingredients, can be used to resurface the entire bony surface of a joint with new cartilage. Such a procedure would go beyond healing sports injuries to treating sufferers of severe forms of arthritis, in which practically all of the joint cartilage has been destroyed. Oral health researchers are also interested in possible application to disorders of the temporomandibular (jaw) joint.

The discovery and commercialization of CDMPs was preceded by years of clinical observation and traditional treatment of joint disease.

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