An investigative team drawn from a bevy of top research institutes subjected 22,000 molecules to a robotic screening test and found one--a Novartis ($NVS) molecule dubbed kartogenin--that spurred the development of cartilage-building cells in lab studies, pointing to a new entry among experimental arthritis treatments.
Reporting in Science, the investigators were excited to see that kartogenin could offer a new supply of chondrocytes to repair damaged joints, a common condition for millions of arthritis sufferers and a major advance on the pain therapies and surgical remedies that the elderly are forced to settle for now. But the scientists also cautioned against an excess of enthusiasm, noting the long clinical journey that awaits any new arthritis therapy.
"We found this molecule that can take stem cells that are already in the joint, and differentiate them into chondrocytes," Kristen Johnson, a researcher at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation in San Diego, told Bloomberg. "We're excited about the biology because it's a new way of targeting the stem cells, but you can't emphasize enough what an early stage of drug discovery this is."
The research team--which filed a patent on their discovery--included scientists from Scripps in La Jolla, CA, as well as Massachusetts General Hospital.