Osiris: Unraveling the mesenchymal mystery

The hematopoietic system has been one of the most productive areas for biotechnology products and profits. But until recently, the existence of a sister system of mesenchymal cells hasn't been recognized, let alone mined for potential therapeutics.

Now Osiris Therapeutics Inc. is working to apply its understanding of mesenchymal stem cells into a sweeping array of applications in keeping with the fundamental underlying role MSCs play in the body's structural and connective tissues.

Osiris's MSC Biomatrix products combine MSCs with biocompatible carriers to regenerate tissue in orthopedic indications and metabolic and degenerative disorders such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

Other applications include use of MSCs in stem cell therapy to reconstitute marrow stroma after high dose chemotherapy or radiation; in gene therapy to treat congenital musculoskeletal disorders and deliver therapeutic proteins; and in biopharmaceuticals to regulate the growth and differentiation of MSCs in osteoporosis and cancer.

'Metal to biology'

The ability to regenerate tissue could lead to what President and CEO James Burns describes as a transition from "metal to biology," - the replacement of products such as artificial hips. But the opportunity in biopharmaceuticals could be even more lucrative if the company were to find the mesenchymal equivalent of Neupogen or Epogen for diseases such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis.