UI graduate student works to commercialize drug that prevents osteoarthritis

UI graduate student Jaison Marks has been working with the University of Iowa Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation to commercialize a drug that prevents posttraumatic osteoarthritis.


Jenna Galligan

Jaison Marks poses for a portrait on the University of Iowa medical campus on Sunday, October 6, 2019.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

Researchers at the University of Iowa have been working for years to develop a drug to prevent the development of posttraumatic osteoarthritis, a disease caused by joint injuries. Now, a UI team of researchers announced a drug ready to be tested on humans.

CartilaGen Inc., a medical technology startup partnering with the UI department of orthopedics and rehabilitation, is already working toward commercializing the drug.

Jaison Marks, co-founder of the organization, has been working alongside the researchers over the development of the drug. The drug is patented through the UI, and Marks has an exclusive license for the drug, which allowed him to start CartilaGen Inc.

The drug is placed inside a gel, and both are injected into the patient’s joint that has sustained injury, Marks said.

Marks is part of the research team that developed the drug and began working for its commercialization after J. Lawrence Marsh, the principal investigator for the research, asked.

After sustaining an injury playing soccer in high school, Marks was told he would likely develop posttraumatic osteoarthritis — which he said initially piqued his interest in the disease.

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“I asked them ‘Well, what options are there for me?’” Marks said. “And they were like, ‘Well, there’s really nothing,’ because everything that doctors use for osteoarthritis right now is only managing symptoms. Nothing can prevent the disease.”

CartilaGen Inc. placed second in the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Venture Competition and received $25,000 to fund the startup.

The organization first had to submit an executive summary and send the judges more financial and business plans in each round, John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center Director Lynn Allendorf said.

The organization began working with the center in 2016 to develop the idea of commercializing the drug, she said.

“I think what stood out about them was the progress they’ve made over the last several years towards getting their product to market,” Allendorf said. “They’re a healthcare company, and that tends to be a much longer go-to-market cycle.”

Receiving second place in the competition should help the company get their name out there, Allendorf said. It will likely open doors for the company in Iowa and with the organizations that fund healthcare startups, she added.

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The research on developing this drug began in 2008 when researchers studied the responses of cartilage to injuries that occur in joint fractures, said James Martin, UI associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation, in an email to *The Daily Iowan*.

The drug was tested in animal models, Martin said, determining that early treatment prevents the development of posttraumatic osteoarthritis.

The researchers need FDA approval to begin clinical trials of the drug, which requires extensive preclinical testing, Martin said. Then, the team will conduct three clinical trial phases to show the drug is safe and effective. Next, he said, the researchers will partner with CartilaGen Inc. to commercialize the drug.

“Currently, little can be done to prevent [posttraumatic osteoarthritis] in patients with joint fractures,” Martin said. “Such injuries often occur in young people who face a lifetime of profound disability. Thus, the need to develop treatment options is urgent.