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Tissue Engineers, Biotech Firm Partner on Cartilage Repair

Engineered replacement cartilage

NeoCart engineered replacement cartilage (Histogenics Corporation)

3 October 2014. Histogenics Corp. that develops replacement cartilage is licensing technology from Intrexon Corp., a biotechnology company producing engineered genetics for commercial applications, for a new process to repair cartilage injuries with a patient’s own cells. The deal has a potential value of at least $44.5 million to Intrexon, but could also result in a return investment of up to $15 million in Histogenics.

Cartilage is the elastic connective tissue between joints that also acts as a cushion between the bones in the joint, but unlike bones, does not repair itself. While highly resilient, cartilage can wear down with age or tear under stress from trauma. The wear and tear of age, often compounded by obesity, can lead to a loss of joint cartilage, a condition known as osteoarthritis causing inflammation and pain. Various therapies are available from drugs to relieve the pain and inflammation to surgery.

One type of surgery takes a patients own cartilage cells, called chondrocytes, and cultures the cells in a lab, to grow replacement cartilage tissue. Histogenics, in Waltham, Massachusetts, offers a form of this therapy, which takes a piece of a patient’s cartilage from non-weight bearing surfaces in the body and grows new cartilage tissue on a collagen scaffold that can be implanted in the patient. The company is testing its implant therapy, called NeoCart, in a late-stage clinical trial.

Intrexon’s technology, known as UltraVector, combines DNA with cellular and protein engineering, but also applies computational models for the design and production of synthetic biological functions. UltraVector, says the company, acts as the operating system for the technology, with applications for the regulation of gene expression and precise targeting of engineered genetics built to work with UltraVector.

The deal calls for Histogenics to adapt genetic engineering techniques from Intrexon, in Germantown, Maryland, to develop a new kind of cartilage repair that starts with a patient’s own cells. The collaboration aims to create an off-the-shelf line of genetically modified chondrocyte cells that can control for immune system compatibility, and still work with Histogenics’ cellular scaffolds and manufacturing processes.

Under the deal, Histogenics pays Intrexon a one-time “technology access fee” of $10 million as a convertible promissory note, and will reimburse Intrexon for research and development costs, in two installments over the course of the collaboration. In addition, Histogenics will provide commercial and regulatory milestone payments to Intrexon of $34.5 million, as well as royalties on gross profits of products from the partnership. Intrexon, for its part, will have an option of investing up to $15 million in Histogenics.

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