Getting Stem cells to turn into Cartilage: A Scientific or Business Breakthrough?
Can stem cells produce cartilage? Some recent headlines have been touting yet another “breakthrough” in cartilage repair. Scientsists working for the drug company Novartis screened mesenchymal stem cells to determine if there was a molecular switch that could turn stem cells into cartilage. They did find one in the small molecule known as kartogenin. While this sounds like quite a breakthrough, it’s really not as important as it sounds scientifically, but it is a big business milestone for Novartis. You see there are literally hundreds of research studies going back 15 years showing any combination of substances (many of which are commonly found in medicine) can cause stem cells to create cartilage. In fact, this is so taken for granted that there are now multiple stem cell cartilage assay kits on the market to measure how much cartilage stem cells can produce. However, from the looks of the Novartis press release and the news coverage you’d think that Novartis had just struck science gold. Not so much. However, what they did strike was real financial gold. You see, by finding a small relatively unknown molecule that can be patented and sold as a mass distributed drug, they have found a lucrative market (while the many other things that cause stem cells to differentiate into cartilage can’t be patented). Let’s just hope that once this new drug hits the market, nobody tells the doctors and patients that there are more ways to turn stem cells into cartilage than Carter’s got Liver Pills!