Co.Don: An Alternative Approach to Treating Cartilage Defects
Ralf M. Jakobs, CEO
The world changed for 14-year-old Anna when her knee cartilage got shattered in an accident. Anna’s orthopaedic surgeon, however, did not want to leave any stone unturned for her treatment to restore Anna’s active lifestyle. The surgeon assessed the possibility of several therapeutic procedures to grow new knee cartilage. This is when the orthopaedist came across an alternative concept of regenerative therapy for treating cartilage defects. The alternative treatment used a 100 percent autologous cell therapy that could help regenerate damaged cartilage. After consulting with Anna’s parents, the surgeon removed a small piece of cartilage from the affected joint. The extracted piece was then used for 3D culture of articular cartilage in a controlled environment. Once the process of growing the cartilage (in the form of spheroids) was completed, the surgeon carried out a minor procedure on Anna’s knee and inserted the spheroids into the lesion, where the spheroids adhered naturally and combined with existing healthy cartilage to form new cartilage tissue. A few months after the said treatment, Anna had her wish fulfilled and could return to a healthy life like any other kid of her age.
While this is indeed a remarkable medical success story, the biopharmaceutical company that made this concept of regenerative therapy possible is CO.DON. Established in 1992, CO.DON is one of the world’s leading specialists in cell breeding for the joint-preserving treatment of articular cartilage damage.
The Revolution in Cartilage Defect Treatment
“Our autologous cell therapy leverages the “power” of patients’ own cells to restore damaged cartilage tissue,” comments Ralf M. Jakobs, CEO of CO.DON. The company has created matrix-associated autologous cartilage cell transplantation (M-ACT) method, as a minimally-invasive treatment of articular cartilage damage. M-ACT leverages autologous production of cartilage tissue using a patient’s own cells to offer the formation of pressure-stable articular cartilage.
The proven success of the M-ACT method in treating cartilage defects has helped the company to secure approval of the European Commission for the regenerative treatment of cartilage damage. As per the EU-approval in July 2017, CO.DON can offer their regenerative therapy to adults for treating knee injuries. Further, in the German healthcare sector, CO.DON’s method is reimbursed regularly and can thus be used for treating joint injuries that are frequently sustained in sports, heavy industries, and accidents. Today, approximately 200 clinics in Germany use CO.DON’s M-ACT treatment and approximately 14,500 patients have already received treatment through this method. At the same time, almost all hospitals, including specialist public health clinics in Great Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Austria, have switched to our new Product, the CO.DON method product for the treatment of joint cartilage defects. This was made possible not only by the approval obtained, but in particular by the full reimbursability in the respective health systems.
Riding on the Growth Bandwagon
CO.DON’s increasing popularity has helped the company drive forward with unwavering motivation.
Our autologous cell therapy leverages the “power” of patients’ own cells to restore cartilage tissue
Moving along the trajectory of its early success, CO.DON is constantly making improvements in its M-ACT treatment. The company has shortened the delivery time of the chondrocyte spheroids to mitigate any delay in the treatment, and also increased the shelf-life of the spheroids for cross-country use. In this context, CO.DON develops its own software designed for process optimization which raises the documentation issues arising in the field of transplantation medicine to a new level. The aim of the software is to ensure a significant reduction of the previous manual activities between physicians, hospitals and participating companies in order to increase efficiency for the benefit of patients.
Jakobs says, “While our EU-approved productacts as our foundational stone, our service orientation is the driving factor that helpsbuild a long-term and stable partnership with healthcare facilities for the benefit of patients.”
Recently, a leadingUniversity Hospital Center, one of the largest health facilities in the Netherlands, became the first Dutch hospital to start treating cartilage defects with the CO.DON’s product. Jakobs highlights that having its M-ACT process translated into clinical use outside Germany is a critical milestone in CO.DON’s corporate strategy. He says, “Together with our hospital partners, we can enable patients in the Netherlands to receive personalized, regenerative, and sustainable treatment for cartilage defects.”
Next month, CO.DON is set to inaugurate another facility, which, according to Jakobs, is “cell-production 2.0.” In contrast to the previous systems, the new plant will have a clean room area of only 19 square meters. The innovations developed and introduced by us will lead to an increase in production capacities with a reduction in the clean room area while at the same time significantly reducing the costs both in the operation of the plant and in the area of personnel required for operation. By using this technology, we can more than triple our production capacity and are now in a position to offer significant outsourcing to other companies.
Also, considering the rising government interest around M-ACT treatment, CO.DON is looking to build a more collaborative relationship with the government to help the German defence force members. From his experience as an army officer, Jakobs notes that combat troops often sustain joint injuries on their active line of duties, which causes early retirement among armed force personnel. To help to reduce this early retirement rate, CO.DON has plans of providing its service to the armed forces, offering them a new lease of life.
In addition, CO.DON is currently expanding its business to France and Italy. The company also has plans for starting its operation in the U.S., and it is currently searching for a suitable partner to offer its treatment across North American states.
The Promise of a Better Future
Amidst all these successes, CO.DON, as pointed out by Jakobs, will always stay focused on the R&D in the orthopaedic treatment domain, instead of venturing into multiple therapeutic domains. Jakobs says, “We are only at the tip of the iceberg in the regenerative medicine segment. CO.DON’s goal is to generate more awareness for this mode of treatment and make the treatment accessible to more patients.” Moving forward with this mission, CO.DON is planning to look at stem cell treatment as a potential addition to its regenerative therapy. Supplementing this plan, CO.DON is making progress toward getting further EU-approval for application of M-ACT therapy for adolescents below 18 years of age.
Management Ralf M. Jakobs, CEO and Tilmann Bur, COO
Description Develops, produces, and markets a treatment for cartilage defects in the knee—the 100 percent autologous cell therapies for the repair of cartilage defects. The company leverages matrix-associated autologous cartilage cell transplantation (M-ACT) as a minimally-invasive treatment of articular cartilage damage. The autologous production of three-dimensional cartilage tissue without the use of foreign materials offers the formation of pressure-stable articular cartilage, which actively integrates into the surrounding tissue.The CO.DON group holds marketing authorizations for their product in the EU and Switzerland
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