Mining Orthopedics' Niches
Opportunities in meniscus replacement and cartilage repair have long been under-realized in orthopedics--victims of both strong markets for core products, most notably total knee replacements, and the challenges of developing devices that work well. Now two start-ups, sister companies launched by UK-based serial entrepreneurs Oakes, Lyman, believe they've found the technology to tap these opportunities.
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START-UP counts some 40 commercial development efforts in cartilage repair and regeneration. Some are implanting synthetic scaffolds, and some are offering cell-based therapies used with or without scaffolds. It's a crowded and confusing category. So many companies are chasing a market that is still somewhat undefined and doesn't seem large enough to support them all. What's clear, however, is that almost 15 years after the introduction of Carticel, the first cell-based implant for cartilage repari, there is still an unsatisified market of patients aged 20-60 with knee pain due to cartilage damage or degeneration.
Sports medicine is the fastest growing specialty in orthopedics, attracting more than 25% of orthopedic residents seeking fellowships for the 2010 training year. Since many sports injuries occur in the young athlete, the way an injury is treated early on may be the determining factor in preventing progressive joint changes and the early onset of degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis. The promise of new biomaterials and biologics for repairing or replacing supporting soft tissue structures will have a big impact on the orthopedics market for some time to come.
With the era of regenerative medicine upon us, fueled in part by the Obama administration's lifting of the ban on government funding for stem cell research, advancements in biological approaches to orthopedic joint restoration are in the forefront. Most orthopedic surgeons believe that the future treatment of musculoskeletal problems no longer lies in replacing joints with metallic implants but in the development of curative therapies involving cells, growth factors, and other bioactive agents capable of regenerating bone, cartilage, and other joint structures. Although such products are still in the early stages of development, there has been a recent surge of interest in this area. Based on the wealth of new technologies presented at this year's American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting held recently in Las Vegas, it is clear that stakeholders in this industry are in hot pursuit of this opportunity, which could one day be measured in the billions of dollars.