Chondropeptix finds investors for promising medicine

november 23, 2019

Osteoarthritis is on the rise. More and more people are struggling with joint problems caused by cartilage that has been damaged and even dissolved, and this damage is starting at an increasingly younger age. Chondropeptix is developing a promising medicine that protects the cartilage. Thanks to funding from the Dutch foundation ReumaNederland among others , this Maastricht UMC+ spin-off will be able to take the concept to the next development phase.

Slow osteoarthritis down by protecting cartilage

Osteoarthritis is the wear and tear of the cartilage in the joints. The cartilage acts as a shock absorber between the bones. The less cartilage, the more problems and pain it causes. A cure has not yet been found, says Tim Welting, scientific director and co-founder of Chondropeptix, and head of the laboratory for experimental orthopedics at Maastricht UMC+. “Patients currently have to make do with painkillers, corticosteroid injections. At a later stage, a knee joint replacement is often the only remaining option. Of course, physicians and scientists are looking for therapies and medicines. Results have been reported for cell therapy and cartilage regeneration, but we think it will take a long time before there is an adequate remedy.”


In the short term, the biochemist who was born in Heerlen and got his degree in Nijmegen, sees better prospects in one specific peptide, something he has been researching in Maastricht for over ten years. "A peptide is a small molecule, derived from a protein that can be developed into a medicine. We have discovered a small fragment, a peptide, in an important growth factor for cartilage-forming cells that protect cartilage. We believe that the substance’s protective properties can inhibit the progress of osteoarthritis. We have proven this in the laboratory, and the results with small animals are also promising."
Tim Welting made the discovery with his team that studies the molecular biology of cartilage. This invention was protected via two patents, and in late 2017 orthopedic surgeon Pieter Emans, head of orthopedics Lodewijk van Rhijn and Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus founded the Chondropeptix start-up. The company is based at the BioPartner building at the Brightlands Maastricht campus.

Creating value

Establishing a start-up is an important conditional step for bringing inventions like this to the patient, says Yvo Graus, general manager of Chondropeptix and also working for the  Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus. "If researchers and physicians find a scientific breakthrough that can serve as the basis for a new therapy or medicine, then it's up to us to ensure that the first steps can be taken to develop the therapy or medicine. We have the knowledge to do this. We bring parties together that can finance the company so that it can grow, and eventually, the medical discovery can be brought to market. After all, you don't want a good idea to sit on a shelf collecting dust; you want society to benefit from it. That is clear, in this case. In the Netherlands, 15 percent of people over 70 have a severe form of osteoarthritis. We are also seeing a decrease in the age at which osteoarthritis manifests itself. Osteoarthritis is painful, disabling and places a heavy burden on the health care system. If we can ensure that the process is slowed down, the benefits in terms of health and society will be substantial.”


After the successful initial results in the laboratory, Chondropeptix was looking for capital for the next phase, and found it. The company has received an investment of €1 million from ReumaNederland, LIOF, and Brightlands Life Sciences Ventures. “We can now take the next steps," says a very pleased Tim Welling, “the first of which is to look for the right form for this medicine. We know that it has to be injected directly into the joint, but the big challenge is to ensure that the medicine continues to do its job for a long time. It should not be 'flushed out’ or eliminated by the body too quickly. We don't want to have to inject people every week or every day. Processing an active ingredient to produce a usable medicine takes a long time.”


The next step is the clinical phase. "In total, it will take at least another four or five years before a testable medicine based on the peptide is available," says Yvo Graus, who remains cautious. "The procedures and protocols are strict and comprehensive, and with good reason. We must be sure that the substance is safe and works well. You only know that after a lengthy test period. The question is also which patients benefit most from the medicine; at which stage of the disease does the medicine have the greatest effect? There are still many questions to be answered. The fact is that there are investors who have faith in the concept and in Chondropeptix. We can continue to work on a cure for osteoarthritis."


For Tim Welting and his research team, the funding is recognition for over ten years of research. “With  this peptide, we have the potential to bring to market an effective, affordable medicine that can be produced on a large scale. If it works well, millions of people will benefit. A medicine that inhibits osteoarthritis and may even be able to cure or prevent osteoarthritis in combination with other therapies. This is the Holy Grail, and what we're striving for.”


"Chondropeptix is an excellent example of a therapeutic innovation that can have a major impact on patients' lives," says Tys van Elk, director of LIOF. "Our Limburg Business Development Fund (LBDF) actively supports innovative companies with strong growth potential at an early stage. We are enthusiastic about the investment in Chondropeptix, together with Brightlands and ReumaNederland."

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