BME and finance master’s student wins $25K to commercialize arthritis drug

Posttraumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) is a debilitating condition that is typically managed by clinicians symptomatically, meaning that care is only targeted at managing symptoms and not treating the underlying cause of the disease. CartilaGen, Inc., a medical technology startup spun out from the University of Iowa's Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, is commercializing an intra-articular injection of a small-molecule drug capable of preventing posttraumatic osteoarthritis and recently received $25,000 for finishing in 2nd place in the 2019 Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition. CartilaGen is led by Jaison Marks, a master’s student in both the UI Roy J. Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering and the UI Department of Finance.

“We have an opportunity to completely transform the way in which PTOA is managed,” said Marks. “PTOA affects more than six million people, including many wounded warriors, at a cost of nearly $15 billion annually to the United States. Developing a mechanism for prevention will undoubtedly improve quality of life for people who would have been afflicted with PTOA.”

Faculty members in the UI Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation housed in the UI Carver College of Medicine developed this invention that could be marketed as a preventative measure for PTOA.

"Beginning in 2009, we identified a pathway that leads to acute cell death and permanent metabolic derangement in injured cartilage," said James Martin, UI associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation. "In projects funded by the Department of Defense, we discovered that these effects emanate from mitochondria, which produce large amounts of damaging oxidants in response to injury. Further study showed that our treatment soon after injury sharply reduces oxidant production, sparing cartilage from the detrimental effects of injury. Testing in a large animal model of post-traumatic osteoarthritis brought on by joint fracture revealed remarkable disease mitigation."

With development of the drug complete, the team is about to initiate a clinical trial with 66 patients, funded by the United State Department of Defense. The trial will measure both the safety and efficacy of the drug and will hopefully be completed in two years.

"Even with advanced surgical and medical care, joint fractures in people currently lead to post-traumatic osteoarthritis within a few years of injury," said Dr. J. Lawrence Marsh, Carroll B. Larson Chair in UI Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation. "Our paradigm-shifting laboratory research offers a unique opportunity to dramatically improve outcomes in these patients, a prospect that will be rigorously tested in the pending clinical trial. As a trauma surgeon, I am excited to serve as principal investigator for this potentially groundbreaking project."

Marks noted that the next step before beginning the clinical trial involves filing an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a complex and costly process. Marks intends to use part of CartilaGen’s winnings to hire a consultant to help with the application.

“When we think about a disease like PTOA and the life-long physical impairment associated with it, turning our focus to prevention, and not just managing symptoms, holds tremendous potential,” said Marks. “We know that current medical practice has no intervention designed for prevention, and we are confident that we can change that.” 

About the 2019 Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition

The John Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition contest is intended to encourage and promote entrepreneurial activity and create greater awareness of the resources available to entrepreneurs in Iowa.

For more information visit the website.

student accepts award