Antibody therapy for the treatment of osteoarthritis and pain

By inducing osteoarthritis, University of Melbourne researchers have suggested that antibody therapy can treat this painful disease. This can reduce side effects and pain in sufferers and reduce the need for joint replacements.

The technology

Osteoarthritis (OA) causes destruction of cartilage, sclerosis of underlying bone and osteophyte formation, which means most sufferers lose movement of their joints and suffer pain. The cause of OA is unknown and there’s no cure. It’s characterised by defective cartilage and changes in bones, tendons and muscles. Pain is the most common symptom that patients seek help for. Therapies to help OA try to reduce pain and improve joint function, but such therapy can be ineffective or have side effects. If the pain can’t be controlled, many patients need total knee or hip replacements.

In response to this, Professor John Hamilton and his team from the Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne and Western hospitals (Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences) are using an experimental model of OA research in mice.

The team are inducing osteoarthritis in mice by injecting an enzyme, collagenase, into the mice’s articular cartilage. The study found that mice genetically deficient in a pro-inflammatory protein called cytokine GM-CSF have less joint deformation, much less cartilage damage and less synovitis than the control mice. Based on this preliminary result, Professor Hamilton and his team have suggested that anti-GM-CSF antibody therapy could be used as a treatment of Osteoarthritis.

The partnership

University of Melbourne Commercial approached the company MorphoSys with the concept that anti-GM-CSF antibody therapy could treat osteoarthritis and pain. Professor Hamilton and the MorphoSys team worked together to expand the research.

MorphoSys has in the past developed MOR103 – a fully human HuCAL antibody directed against GM-CSF. MOR103 is in clinical trial for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis.

MorphoSys AB, based in Martinsried/Planegg, Germany, focuses on the development of human antibodies for treating infectious diseases, cancer and inflammation. It has therapeutic and research alliances with the majority if the world's largest pharmaceutical companies including Boehringer Ingelheim, Centocer/Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer and Roche.

The outcome

In July 2009, MorphoSys AG and the University of Melbourne announced an agreement to cooperate on investigating new therapeutic applications for MorphoSys's MOR103 program. As part of this relationship, patent applications have been filed, which are intended to broaden the patent position of the anti-GM-CSF approach.

Under the terms of the agreement, MorphoSys funded research activities at the University of Melbourne in multiple new indications. The University of Melbourne received an upfront payment and will be entitled to further research funding, clinical milestone and royalty payments.