BioWorld International Correspondent

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Cartela AB, an early stage firm based in Lund, Sweden, is seeking US$3 million in equity financing to progress its programs based on the development of two novel integrins, a10b1 and a11b1, as targets for treatment of osteoarthritis and other diseases of the joints associated with cartilage degeneration.

The company also is looking to license the use of both proteins as markers in autologous chondrocyte transplantation, which is used in treatment of sports injuries.

Cartela is addressing one of the biggest disease areas to lack effective drug therapy. Osteoarthritis, which results from degradation of cartilage in the joints, is currently treated with painkillers and, eventually, joint replacement. "There are no drugs that stimulate the repair of the damaged cartilage," company CEO Evy Lundgren- kerlund told BioWorld International.

Cartela has patent positions with respect to the two integrins. They are cell-surface receptors that are expressed on the surface of chondrocytes and that mediate interactions with the surrounding cartilage matrix. It is investigating them as potential targets. By modulating the signals between the extracellular matrix and the interior of chondrocytes, the company hopes to be able to influence the metabolic pathways within the cells that are responsible for the synthesis and degradation of matrix molecules and thereby to prevent or repair damaged cartilage.

With the help of a neighbor, Lund-based antibody specialist BioInvent International AB, Cartela has generated recombinant human antibodies that bind the integrins, but it has not yet identified their natural ligands. "We have started with antibodies. Our next step is to find small molecules that do the same thing," Lundgren- kerlund said.

The company sees immediate potential in licensing the use of the two integrins as markers for functioning chondrocytes, as their respective expression patterns differ on chondrocytes and on the stem cells that give rise to them. "By using these two we get a very good analysis of the stage of differentiation," Lundgren- kerlund said. This can form the basis of a quality control system for cartilage tissue transplantation, she said. It is also exploring their potential as targets for gene therapy vectors.

Cartela, which is based at the Biomedical Center at Lund University, was formed in September 2000 by Lundgren- kerlund, an associate professor at the college; Stefan Lohmander, an internationally recognized expert on osteoarthritis; and company Chairman Karl-Olof Borg, who also is a director of Pharmexa A/S, of H rsholm, Denmark, and of BioInvent. The company received seed funding from two early stage Swedish investors, Lund-based Teknoseed AB and Volito AB of Malmö.