Askel Healthcare is a recent addition to the life science and healthtech business ecosystem in the Helsinki metropolitan area. The company, founded by former researchers, was established in spring 2017 and is already looking towards global markets.
The CEO of Askel Healthcare, Virpi Muhonen explains that the company is based on long-term, target-oriented research carried out by a multidisciplinary team of orthopedists, cell biologists, and material scientists. In 2012, a successful research consortium between University of Helsinki, Tampere University of Technology, and Åbo Akademi came to an end. As a result, the researchers possessed an exciting new cartilage-repairing biomaterial.
The commercialization of the innovative biomaterial was accelerated with Tekes TUTL funding. Following the completion of the Tekes projects, it was decided that the medical device, now named as COPLA ScaffoldTM, would be developed further within a company created specifically for that purpose.
“The support we received from Tekes was crucial for our product development project. It enabled us to practice skills essential for commercialization and entrepreneurship while still in the academic world, and before starting our own business”, Muhonen praises.
Muhonen also points out that founding Askel Healthcare required a major change in her own ways of thinking – as a researcher she had to learn what it takes to act as an entrepreneur, superior, and CEO.
COPLA ScaffoldTM guides the body to heal damaged cartilage
The COPLA ScaffoldTM implant developed by Askel Healthcare is produced utilizing processes typical of the textile industry. The feltlike composite material is constituted of a biodegradable polylactide and recombinant human collagen originating from yeast cell culture.
COPLA ScaffoldTM functions as an elastic and supporting structure in the damaged joint. Bone marrow stem cells adhere to the microenvironment provided by the implant. The implant directs biomechanical stress in the joint to the stem cells, facilitating their differentiation into cartilage. This results in the repair of the joint surface damage, eliminating a risk factor for osteoarthritis.
“The implant guides the system to repair the cartilage damage. It degrades within two years – thus, only the healed cartilage remains in the joint”, Muhonen specifies.
The technology will be implemented first in veterinary medicine and later in human orthopedics. To proceed into human use, the implant must finish clinical trials for medical devices and receive both CE marking and FDA approval.
Askel Healthcare is currently starting clinical trials for medical devices with canine patients in Finland, and with horses in the US. The company wants to acquire additional user experience and clinical data as a proof-of concept. Muhonen is confident that COPLA ScaffoldTM will be available for human use within a few years.