Profile on Flex Biomedical Inc. from Start-Up Magazine
Intra-articular injections of hyaluronic acid, which mimics the lubricating properties of natural synovial fluid and lessens friction and pain in the osteoarthritic knee joint, has become increasingly popular for treating osteoarthritis. However, of the seven formulations available in the US, none have been proven clinically superior and they have only limited long-term benefit to the patient. Flex Biomedical Inc. is working to address these concerns with a single-injection synthetic polymer alternative to HA.
Osteoarthritis (OA), the progressive degeneration of the articular cartilage and synovial fluid in the joints of the knees, hips, extremities such as the hands and ankles, and spine, is one of the largest unmet clinical needs in health care today. An estimated 27 million US adults have OA, up from 21 million in 1990, according to statistics from the American College of Rheumatology, with prevalence forecast to double by 2020. What’s more, according to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, the lifetime risk of experiencing symptomatic knee OA, the most frequently diagnosed form of the disease, is estimated at 46%.
Intra-articular injections of hyaluronic acid (HA) that mimic the lubricating properties of natural synovial fluid and lessen friction and pain in the osteoarthritic knee joint have become increasingly popular since the first FDA approval in 1997. However, of the seven formulations available in the US, none have been proven clinically superior, they have only limited long-term benefit to the patient, and concerns exist regarding a placebo effect. Madison, WI-based start-up Flex Biomedical Inc. is working to address these concerns – and the large and vastly underpenetrated knee OA viscosupplementation market – with a single-injection synthetic polymer alternative to HA.
Sal Braico, co-founder, president and CEO of Flex Biomedical, was formerly chief operating officer of ConjuGon Inc., an antibacterial biotech company. In 2007, he and his colleague Hideki Suzuki, chief scientist at ConjuGon, decided to start a new biomedical company. After researching a number of options they agreed to focus on critical needs in the demographically favorable orthopedic sector, and began exploring ongoing technology transfer projects at a number of universities.
Once they met Mark Grinstaff, a biomedical engineering and chemistry professor at Boston University, and saw what he and his senior team including scientist Michel Wathier and orthopedic surgeon Brian Snyder were working on in synthetic viscosupplementation, the five decided to start a company together. Flex Biomedical was founded in October 2007 and the intellectual property for the polymer was licensed exclusively from BU. The company received an initial $200,000 Launch Award from BU in January 2008, and it has raised $2.6 million in funding to date from a number of investment sources.