You’ve been in a car accident. You are rushed to the emergency room and stabilized, but the damage to your leg is extensive. A major chunk of your femur has been crushed, and you will need years of reconstructive surgery to get back to normal, if that is even possible.
This is a horrifying and unfortunately regular occurrence. But research into biologics, or the regeneration of biological material, is advancing. The mythical possibility of humans growing back body parts like lizards grow back their severed tails is no longer science fiction, but a plausible end-goal for several startups around the world in the emerging field of regenerative medicine.
Novadip, a spinoff of La Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium, is developing a stem-cell-based plasticine material that will serve as the basis for growing back damaged bone and skin. They are prepping Stage I & II clinical trials for September to take place not only in Belgium, but also in the UK, Sweden and possibly Poland.
“The major obstacle is to demonstrate efficacy in comparison to classical treatment with a similar or lower cost than conventional treatments,” Denis Dufrane, Novadip’s co-founder and chairman of its Scientific Committee, told Geektime on the sidelines of the IATI Biomed conference in Tel Aviv.
Their product is dubbed the CREOST (a portmateau of “create” and “osteo”). It’s a scaffold made from a plasticine based on human stem cells, which can be guided to grow into any kind of cell: bone, skin, muscle, organ, you name it. Plasticines are more akin to clay.
In this case, the stem cells would eventually produce new bone cells, ossifying the material into new bone itself. The first trials are geared toward bone grafts, though Chief Scientific Officer Denis Dufrane tells Geektime they could start testing cartilage-oriented trials soon after. Skin regeneration is also a major focus.
Tissue regeneration: a growing market
Novadip is the latest entrant to a lengthening list of regenerative medicine startups. Much to Mr. Dufrane’s credit, he named three companies off the top of his head he thought were either competitors or complements to his business in the same industry: Bone therapeutics, Mesoblast, Regeneus (By the way, if you want to make good with journalists, don’t hide your competitors’ names from us. We will find them. Kudos, Mr. Dufrane.)
In a wide-reaching study about the future of regenerative medicine technology, Allied Market Research forecast that the value of that market would grow 28.6% a year through 2020 with particularly strong growth in Japan and South Korea. Another report says dermatology — i.e. skin treatment and regeneration — grew to a prominent position in the U.S. segment of the market in 2015, with musculoskeletal treatments not far behind.
With a €28 million Series A round, they lay claim to one of the largest life sciences, early-stage investments in European startup history. Investors in that September 2015 round included Integrale Advisors, New Science Ventures, Nivelinvest, SRIW and the VIVES Louvain Technology Fund.
New Science Ventures is no stranger to regeneration. Another portfolio company is Juventas, that uses (catalyzing) proteins to promote stem cell-based tissue repair. They also focus on oncology (cancer) startups like Symphogen and Trellis Bioscience.
They hope to bring their first scaffolds to the market by 2020, Dufrane told Geektime, saying “Within five years, we normally [will] be able to perform a market entry after the completion of the clinical phases.”
The technology has the potential to benefit various kinds of patients. Some might be recovering from mild surgeries like the removal of NOFs: non-ossifying fibromas, a kind of benign tumor. Still others might be rehabilitating from more serious diseases or accidents.
Novadip was co-founded by CEO Jean-François Pollet and CSO Denis Dufrane. They are located in Mont-Saint-Guibert, Belgium, a city close to Brussels which is home to a number of UCL spinouts.