Regeneus Ltd is an Australian company that develops innovative regenerative medicine treatments for the pain, inflammation and immune responses associated with chronic and acute illnesses.
By partnering with world-leading researchers, the company produces therapies which, rather than simply masking or numbing pain, instead harness the natural actions of stem cells to interrupt the inflammatory processes that leads to pain and tissue damage.
One of its products has already been licensed to Kyocera for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis in Japan and, through this partnership, is now progressing towards Phase II clinical trials in the US, on its way to providing relief to the millions of people around the world who suffer from this painful and debilitating joint condition.
Dr Cindy Shu, a member of the research team based at the Faculty of Medicine and Health, says that while osteoarthritis is an extremely common disease, there is much we still need to understand in order to intervene in its progression.
“Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease affecting humans and animals,” Dr Shu says. “Our understanding of the pathways that lead to progressive joint degeneration and associated pain in osteoarthritis has improved over the past decades, and it is apparent now that osteoarthritis is a disease of the whole joint, acting as an organ, with changes in one joint tissue affecting the others.
“However, it is unclear whether therapies that target one aspect of osteoarthritis pathology will modify the progressive structural change in the whole joint – and, importantly, how this is related to osteoarthritis pain.”
As a progressive condition that involves inflammation of the joints, osteoarthritis causes pain and reduced movement over time. The pain is what brings most people to their doctor, but the inflammatory process is what causes the pain. If a therapy can be developed that interrupts the overall inflammatory process, this would not only alleviate the pain but also slow the progression of the disease itself.
Injections of stem cells into affected joints in animals have shown some promise, Dr Shu says, but their effect on the overall immune response has not been well investigated. This collaboration aims to advance our knowledge in this area.
Charlotte Morgan, head of research and development at Regeneus and the scientific officer leading this project, says the company approached the University of Sydney team – led by Professor Christopher Little, director of the Raymond Purves Bone and Joint Research Labs at the Kolling Institute of Medical Research at Royal North Shore Hospital – because of their internationally recognised expertise in this specialised area.
“It’s always risky trying new animal models and not knowing if they will be suitable for your product,” Morgan says. “The fact that Chris had previous experience of using an osteoarthritis model with a stem cell product reduced that risk, and meant we felt more certain about getting some positive results without doing lengthy and costly rounds of optimising a model first.”
To help fund the collaboration, Regeneus secured a Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry (REDI) fellowship grant, reducing the company’s own outlay and so allowing it to expand the scope of the study. It now plans to apply for a Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant to extend the partnership and investigate further research questions to enhance the product, along with its market potential.
To other companies considering partnering with the University’s world-leading researchers to achieve their business objectives, Morgan offers the following advice:
Identify your goals and research needs, and explore with academics in your area what they could offer and how it can be mutually beneficial, as it’s a great way to get access to considerable knowledge and, of course, facilities.
Dr Shu adds that industry–researcher product development collaborations like this one are the key to unlocking Australia’s existing international reputation for research innovation and converting it to research-translation–driven productivity.
“Great innovations and discoveries are often just waiting to be noticed,” she says. “Because of the different perspectives of industry and researchers, companies have the ability to recognise the potential of some of our research data and direct it towards IP development or commercialisation.”
The results can greatly benefit not just each partner but – as in this case – the quality of life of millions of people globally.