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Nature Cell begins U.S. phase II trials of arthritis stem cell therapy

South Korean biotechnology firm Nature Cell on Monday said it has begun Phase II clinical trials on its stem cell-based osteoarthritis treatment in the U.S., drawing a step closer to commercializing the new drug overseas.

Osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease, is the most common chronic condition of the joints, occurring most often in the knees, hips, lower back and neck, according to the U.S.-based Arthritis Foundation. 

Dubbed “Joint Stem,” Nature Cell’s new therapy uses about 10 grams of fat tissue extracted from a given patient’s glenoid cavity to incubate some 100 million mesenchymal stem cells, which are later compressed into a 3 cubic-centimeters injection.

About three weeks after their fat tissues are extracted, patients can begin receiving a “Joint Stem” injection once a week. They are able to see their cartilage restored in about six months through regular injections, instead of through surgery, the firm said.

The Biostar Research Lab, jointly operated by Nature Cell and R Bio, is currently incubating stem cells based on fat tissue samples from two U.S. patients. The injections will begin to be administered on April 4 at a hospital in Los Angeles.

The firm plans to recruit a total of 45 local patients at two additional hospitals in the U.S. and complete all the injections by September.

Stem cells — progenitor cells able to develop into various types of tissue — are perceived as the key to advances in regenerative medicine which help the body heal itself. They are known to be particularly effective in regenerating damaged cartilage.

There are around 54 million degenerative arthritis patients in the U.S., of which some 760,000 patients undergo surgery that costs an average of 40 million won ($33,706), according to the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

By Sohn Ji-young (