Advanced Tissue Sciences Inc. (ATS) and Smith & Nephew plc saidMonday that they will enter a joint venture for the development,manufacture and marketing of human tissue-engineered cartilage fororthopedic applications.Smith & Nephew, of London, will contribute $10 million to fundingresearch and development, while ATS technology licenses were valuedat $10 million by the joint venture. Additional funding would beequally shared by the two companies. ATS, of La Jolla, Calif., also hasthe option to borrow $10 million from Smith & Nephew to go towardits share of additional research costs, Marie Burke, director ofcorporate communications for ATS, told BioWorld.ATS, using its proprietary three-dimensional culture system, growschondrocyte cells from a piece of human cartilage into a desired shape.The new cartilage then would be inserted into the spot where thedamaged cartilage was removed.The joint venture originally will focus on the repair or replacement ofdamaged articular and meniscus cartilage in knee joints, which Burkesaid affects about 500,000 people worldwide each year representing amarket of more than $1 billion. Sports injuries are a common cause ofcartilage damage in the knee."The idea is if you can go in at a very early stage to the damaged jointwith (engineered cartilage) and repair the damage, you couldpotentially avoid having joint replacements later," Burke said.She said the product, which is in preclinical studies, took hold of theexisting cartilage in testing on a rabbit.Under the agreement, ATS will supervise the manufacturing of thecartilage tissue products. The joint venture will be responsible forresearch and development, and developing a marketing plan. Smith &Nephew will develop and manufacture the instrumentation needed forthe arthroscopic insertion of the cartilage products.The selling and distribution network of Smith & Nephew, establishedin more than 90 countries, also will be used. Smith & Nephew is theworld's leading seller of arthroscopy equipment through its Dyonicsproducts and is fourth in sales of total knee implants, ATS said."This is the first sizable research and development corporatepartnership that Smith & Nephew has entered," said John Robinson,chief executive of the company, which had 1993 sales of about $1.4billion. "This partnership is the result of an extensive period ofevaluation of not only the technologies available, but potentialpartners."ATS will retain all non-orthopedic cartilage tissue rights, such as thoserelating to facial reconstruction.

-- Jim Shrine

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