Orthros Medical

Antibodies of llamas for osteoarthritis medicine

Orthros Medical
This generation of antibodies is developing very quickly. We catch that wave and surf it.
Robert Jan Lamers
CEO Orthros Medical

The current lifestyle in the Western world ensures, among other things, that the number of osteoarthritis patients continues to increase. There are already 1.5 million in the Netherlands – with all its consequences. 85% of patients experience pain and limitations in their social life every day. Orthros Medical is working on a medicine for this chronic condition – based on antibodies from llamas. CEO Robert Jan Lamers talks about this unique find and the impact it can have.

The story of Orthros Medical started when Marcel Karperien, a professor at the University of Twente, met Theo Verrips, a professor at Utrecht University. Marcel had been researching osteoarthritis for years and was looking for a way to develop a medicine that could be administered locally. At the same time, Theo was making camelid antibodies in yeast. This gave rise to the question: can a medicine for osteoarthritis be developed using antibodies from camelids? “That question was the start of Orthros Medical,” says Robert Jan.

Quick development

The advantage of the antibodies from camelids – and specifically from llamas – is that they are tiny and can be applied locally. “This means you have less chance of side effects,” Robert Jan explains. “A pill for pain relief goes through the entire body, but we can apply the antibodies locally with an injection with a delivery system. This ensures that we have a good safety profile and that patients benefit from it for a long time. This generation of antibodies is developing very quickly. We catch that wave and surf it.”

The antibodies from llamas that Orthros Medical works with are grown in yeast. This influenced the location where the company was allowed to establish itself. Robert Jan explains: “Because we work with genetically modified yeasts, we were not allowed to establish ourselves on the UT campus. That is why we are now located, with a team of 10 employees, at The Green East in Raalte, a farm complex that has been converted into a high-tech innovation center. We are still relatively close to the UT but have our own location with lab facilities.”

Strengthening the company

The company currently does not have a product on the market. “However, we are already making money from our licenses. We are now in the animal study phase,” says Robert Jan. “We will start treating the first patients in a few months. These are not people, but dogs. They are also increasingly struggling with osteoarthritis because a cookie for the owner means a cookie for the dog. It will take some time before we can treat people, as you have to jump through all kinds of hoops. That is frustrating for patients, but fortunately, we are taking many steps in the right direction. The support from the High Tech Fund is a good example of this because it enabled us to purchase expensive equipment that we needed to analyze more product candidates faster. We felt like a ‘llama in a candy store’. Many investors want you to use the money for product development on the way to an exit. The fact that we could invest in equipment with the High Tech Fund has absolutely strengthened our company’s foundation.”

Partners, employees, and investors

With this strong foundation, Robert Jan looks to the future. “We are incredibly ambitious, and we want more and more,” he says. “Broadening our portfolio is crucial for the development of our company. So, in ten years, we want to have at least several products that can help osteoarthritis patients, even if it is only a subgroup of that 85% who suffer from pain daily. If we can offer an alternative for that group – people and animals – or perhaps even regeneration, that would be fantastic. It would be even better if we could also apply our technology to oncology. To get there, we work closely with not only the UT but also with Utrecht University, Leiden UMC, and Amsterdam UMC. Moreover, we are always looking for good employees and investors because we want to grow into a leading company in our area. Not for the money but to help patients. Then, we can ensure that patients can participate in economic and social life again. That is the impact we want to make.”

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