This Startup Has a Silky “Soothe” Answer for Osteoarthritis

Yarn of silk made from a  silk wormSilk has shown a lot of promise in medical research studies, so it’s understandably in high demand right now. One area where it really seems effective is as an instrument for drug delivery. Now, a Boston-based startup by the name of Cocoon Biotech wants to act on this promise by delivering the first fully functional silk injectable which could be used to treat conditions like osteoarthritis (OA) and potentially even rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The company just entered its seed round and is looking to raise up to $750,000, including $500,000 in equity. Their CEO, Allis Tweed-Kent says a successful round of funding will get the company all the way through early-stage clinical studies and into product optimization.

Cocoon has licensed their products (originally imagined by co-founder David Kaplan) for:

  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Joint Medicine
  • Ophthalmology

Kaplan also serves as the chair of biomedical engineering at Tufts University. Actually, it’s worth checking out his research partner Fiorenzo Omenetto’s TEDTalks on the ancient material we know as silk, and it’s still untapped potential.

The startup uses sophisticated technology to reverse engineer a cocoon. Here’s a simplified breakdown of how Kaplan figured out how to do it:

  1. His team is able to extract the solution the silkworm produces in its glands.
  2. They revert back to where the silkworm begins its process of “cocoon making”.
  3. This can produce microparticles, hydrogels, sponges and films.

Cocoon Biotech’s CEO spent some time visiting clinics and speaking to people battling the symptoms of OA. She felt there was a serious need for expanded innovation in this particular space. It’s seems that destiny agreed with her, because she teamed up with Kaplan and founded Cocoon last summer.

What Is OA?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in America. Despite there being a wide variety of studies on OA, treatment often consists of rounds of NSAIDS followed by extensive physical therapy to maintain mobility in affected joints. Surgical procedures, such as total knee replacements are also available, but they can severely hamper a patient’s overall mobility.

Woman is diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the knee

The company believes that effective treatments for this condition must meet two main obstacles:

  1. Must be delivered locally in order to “take advantage of biochemical pathways”
  2. Must protect against the long-term wear and tear that will assail joints and cartilage impacted by these inflammatory symptoms.

Meeting the Demands of Osteoarthritis

Cocoon Biotech is already developing several products which could meet these challenges. Medical researchers are quite intrigued by the silk’s potential to be combined with other medications in order to target specific biochemical pathways in patients with osteoarthritis.

Of the several products already in preclinical development, Cocoon plans on unveiling their lubricant first. Tweed-Kent reports that it’s been proven to “reduce the friction and inflammation and in many ways halt the progression of disease.”

The company plans to have their OA therapy lubricant into commercial production by 2020.