Press release 12 January 2021: Spin-off with knee implant on pole position thanks to acceleration research institute Chemelot InSciTe
Avalanche Medical's synthetic mini-implant from newly developed biomedical material delays knee prosthesis
Maastricht, January 12, 2022 - A new spin-off has emerged from the Chemelot Institute for Science and Technology (InSciTe) research institute: Avalanche Medical. This startup will bring the idea for a synthetic mini-implant to replace damaged cartilage in the knee, to the market. Under the banner of InSciTe, DSM, Maastricht UMC+ and Eindhoven University of Technology, united in the SyCaP consortium, have been working towards this result at a high pace. InSciTe and the partners remain involved through a licensing agreement, while Avalanche Medical continue the development of the implant towards clinical trials. With the knowledge and expertise from InSciTe and financial support from ReumaNederland via a Health Holland public-private partnership project, the company is off to a flying start. Approval in the USA and the EU is expected within 6 years, which could save society millions in costs for revision surgery of total knee replacements.
Newly developed biomedical material
The newly developed implant is intended to replace damaged cartilage at an early stage, preventing the development of osteoarthritis and premature replacement of the entire knee joint. About 600,000 Dutch people have a worn-out knee and about 24,000 patients receive a total knee prosthesis per year. By applying the right treatment at an early stage, when the cartilage damage is still localized, aggravation of the cartilage damage and thus progression to osteoarthritis can be prevented. Avalanche Medical mainly focuses on middle-aged patients, because the regenerative capacity of these patients is limited and regenerative therapy is therefore much less effective.
The mini-implant is placed in the knee to replace the damaged cartilage that forms the sliding and contact surface between the upper and lower leg. “Only where the cartilage is damaged, the implant will take its place,” says Alex Roth, Chief Scientific Officer of Avalanche Medical and assistant professor at Maastricht UMC+. ‘The implant is mainly composed of synthetic materials from the materials portfolio of DSM, which have been used for many years in various implants in the human body. The implant consists of two layers, with the top layer approximating the properties of cartilage and the bottom layer consisting of a new composite material that approximates the mechanical properties of bone. This material was developed within the SyCap project and a patent application has been filed. The material does not degrade over time and can be loaded immediately, facilitating a fast rehabilitation process for the patient. We are now slowly moving towards the clinical phase and hope that surgeons will be able to use the implants in a clinical trial in 2023.”
InSciTe as a stepping stone
It is not the first time that InSciTe has acted as a stepping stone for startups. Within this public-private partnership, knowledge finds its way to the market more quickly because InSciTe brings universities and companies together to work on innovations. More than 35 universities and companies have now united in the research institute and the institute has launched promising spin-offs such as Medace and Vertoro.
Startups build on the knowledge gained in InSciTe and thus can save on the necessary R&D costs. The guidance by the institute, the renowned partners and the clear agreements about intellectual property contribute to a good starting position.
Pieter Emans, orthopedic surgeon Maastricht UMC+ and Chief Medical Officer of Avalanche Medical: “We felt safe working together. Everyone has their own clear role and yet you work together on the bigger picture. As for the patents, they are covered by InSciTe's project agreement. InSciTe also organizes many courses and training programs for start-ups, which is also a bonus. We learned a lot from it.”
Millions in savings possible
Pieter Emans and Alex Roth, together with Bindert Vriesema as external CEO, are now taking the step towards the market. Vriesema has extensive experience in pharmaceutical and chemical industry and has a background at DSM and Pfizer. ReumaNederland sees a future in Avalanche Medical and supports the initiative with a Health Holland TKI PPS allowance for Research and Innovation.
Corné Baatenburg de Jong, deputy director of ReumaNederland: “It is great to see that a new solution is being worked on for patients with damaged cartilage in the knee. We applaud this development and hope that this new solution can help people who develop osteoarthritis due to damage to the cartilage.”
Alex Roth: 'The fact that ReumaNederland has confidence in our ideas is a great compliment. It gives us the opportunity to start the business; with this grant we can even immediately hire our first employee.
Avalanche Medical is also in consultation with investors to move to the clinical phase. Bindert Vriesema: “We are confident that we will succeed, partly due to the strong combination of disciplines in our team. Dutch health insurers spend about 700 million euros annually on replacing knee joints and revisions thereof. Hopefully, our product can reduce that amount significantly. Eventually we aim to raise the age of patients with a first knee prosthesis back to 60-65 years. The trend is currently that the average age is decreasing. In the long term, this prevents heavy and risky revision procedures, because the lifespan of a knee prosthesis is also limited.” The horizon of Avalanche Medical extends beyond applications for the knee alone: “We start with the knee and based on the needs in the medical world, we develop further. ”