WisBusiness: Flex Biomedical aims to produce more effective osteoarthritis treatment

By Va Moua

For WisBusiness.com

For those who suffer from osteoarthritis, treatment usually involves weekly injections that often don’t work at first and produce spotty results after that.

Flex Biomedical Inc., an orthopedics-focused company from Boston, Mass., now located in Madison, has developed a product called the Flex Polymer that can work sooner and more effectively for more patients.

The Flex Polymer is created to treat patients with osteoarthritis. It is an injectable synthetic polymer which comes in a syringe with about two milliliters of the polymer ready for injection in patients with osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a condition that is not curable due to cartilage and fluid break down in joints.

“Osteoarthritis affects 27 million people in this country; it affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. As our population gets older it will affect many more people so this is a very serious medical critical need, so we’re developing this product for those patients,” said Sal Braico, CEO of Flex Biomedical Inc.

Current products on the market that are used to treat osteoarthritis are hyaluronic acid-based products. Patients who are in treatments with the current products must go through one weekly injection for three to five weeks before the product can be effective. In many cases, the current products “just doesn’t work,” Braico said. “These products don’t work very well so we’ve developed a synthetic polymer that is designed to be superior to those current products.”

The Flex Polymer is created as a one-time injection treatment that would last longer than the current hyaluronic acid-based product.

Braico said the Flex Polymer is better than the current products because of three factors: “We’re a better lubricant, we’re a better cushion, and our stuff stays in the joints for a much longer time.”

The Flex Polymer is currently in pre-clinical testing and has been testing for about a year. Flex Biomedical Inc. is waiting to hear more on the pre-clinical testing data results. So far clinical data have shown that the Flex Polymer is effective and efficient.

“So far so good,” Braico said.

The Flex Polymer was invented by co-founders Mark Grinstaff, a professor at Boston University, and Michel Wathier, senior scientist in Grinstaff’s lab and now vice president of Flex Biomedical, Inc.

Grinstaff and Wathier came up with the idea because they “saw that the current products were not good – they just didn’t work – so they wanted to design something that was a lot better,” Braico said. “There’s about a billion dollars of those current products — hyaluronic acid-based products — sold now and those products frankly don’t work well at all.”

The Flex Polymer is currently in development and seeking investors for additional funding.

In November the team of Flex Biomedical Inc. was at the 2009 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium and at the MidAmerica Healthcare Venture Forum to make investor presentations on the company’s product.

— Moua is a student in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the UW-Madison.