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Developing the Biology of Cartilage, Bone and other Connective Tissues, TiGenix

TiGenix (TiG) is a private biomedical company focused on innovative local treatments for damaged and osteoarthritic joints. TiG has established a  portfolio of products which address specific musculoskeletal problems in relation to the biology of cartilage, bone and other connective tissues.

Western societies are characterized by ageing populations that place an increasing emphasis on a high quality of life and life-long mobility. As such, musculoskeletal problems represent a large and growing unmet medical need. Current therapies do not provide satisfying, long-term durable repair.

The knee joint is made up of 3 major bones: the thigh-bone (femur), the shin-bone (tibia) and the kneecap (patella).

  • The meniscus on the inside and the outside of the knee acts as a spacer between the upper leg and the shin-bone, equally distributing the pressure on the lower leg,
  • The extremities of the bones that make up the knee joint are covered with a thin layer of cartilage ensuring supple knee movements and forms an indispensable part of the knee joint. Joint cartilage is a thin, elastic tissue that protects the bone and makes certain that the joint surfaces can slide easily over each other,
  • A change in the shape, structure or volume of the cartilage may cause any pressure on the knee joint to be painful.

There are 2 types of joint cartilage in the knees: fibrous cartilage (the meniscus) and hyaline cartilage. Fibrous cartilage has tensile strength and can resist pressure. Hyaline cartilage covers the surface along which the joints move. It is white and transparent, like porcelain, and gives a similar resistance to an elastic band when pushed. Although it is scarcely five millimeters thick, it is very sturdy and can resist pressures of up to seven times the body’s own weight. The fibers which make up the cartilage tissue form various layers, which each have their own specific function.

  • Cartilage will wear – not just over the years, but also as a result of mechanical stress,
  • Cartilage has a very limited capacity for self-restoration,
  • Newly formed tissue will generally consist for a large part of fibrous cartilage of a lesser quality than the original hyaline cartilage,
  • New cracks and tears will form in the cartilage over time.

The reason why cartilage has only a small capacity for self-restoration, and what makes it very unique, is that it does not contain any blood vessels unlike all other tissues in the body. The necessary nutrients are derived exclusively from the liquid in the joint capsule.

TiG’s lead indication is cartilage damage, which is a debilitating affliction affecting the mobility and functioning of patients. One approach being investigated is allogeneic stem cell therapies:

  • Cells derived from an unrelated donor source rather than from the patients themselves,
  • Allogeneic therapies have the advantage that they can be prepared in advance and used in acute indications,
  • The simplified logistics and reduced costs associated with these “off the shelf” cell products could significantly broaden the market acceptance and use of cell-based therapies,
  • Stem cells might be well suited for allogeneic applications based on adult mesenchymal stem cells isolated from the synovial membrane of the knee.

TiGenix focuses is based in Leuven, Belgium and founded in 2000 and built on technologies developed at the universities of Leuven and Ghent.

  • In addition, TiGenix has developed a set of high-content screening assays that use human chondrocytes and adult stem cells to assess the effect of selected compounds on the different aspects of cartilage biology. These assays enable the biologically intelligent screening of compounds, identifying those with a potential therapeutic effect in osteoarthritis.