J&J teams with Orthocell on regenerative stem cell program

The treatment uses a patient's own tendon cells to regenerate damaged tissue

Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Synthes Products is collaborating with Orthocell on development of a stem cell-based approach to the regeneration of tendons. The partners are due to start a clinical trial of the candidate Ortho-ATI this quarter.

Ortho-ATI, an acronym of autologous tenocyte implantation, is made up of a patient’s own tendon cells, known as tenocytes. Orthocell makes each personalized cell therapy by harvesting a small piece of healthy tendon and then isolating and growing the tenocytes it contains. After four to five weeks of growth, the tenocytes are injected into the damaged tendons. Ultrasound is used to show the site of the injury, making the process less invasive than surgical alternatives.

Australian Football League players were among the early adopters of the treatment. This led to positive, but anecdotal, reports of efficacy Orthocell has backed up with data from larger, more formal studies. One study gave Ortho-ATI to 25 people who were unable to work because of tennis elbow. Following treatment, 88% of participants returned to work, generally within three months. More than 50% of these responders returned to full capacity.

Data from that study and another showing a 207% increase in grip strength proved compelling enough to attract the interest of J&J’s DePuy. Together, the partners will run a multi-center trial designed to provide further, stronger evidence of the efficacy of Ortho-ATI. The deal is a research collaboration, not a licensing deal or other financially significant agreement, but is nonetheless a notable moment for a small company with a product in an unproven field.

“This is a very exciting partnership in the continued development of Ortho-ATI and provides significant external validation of this globally relevant technology,” Orthocell Managing Director Paul Anderson said in a statement.

Ortho-ATI is already available in New Zealand and Australia, Orthocell’s home country, as an option for patients with tendon problems who continue to experience symptoms after treatment with corticosteroid injections and exercise programs.

Shares in Orthocell rose 7% following release of the news.