Science firm at The Heath Business and Technical Park awarded grant to fund cutting-edge research that will revolutionise hip-joint operations

SpheriTech, a leading life science company based at The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn, has been awarded a £174k grant towards pioneering work to develop technology that will revolutionise the way physicians repair joints, with a particular focus on repair of hip lesions.

SpheriTech are responsible for the laboratory-based polymer development for the new treatment; JRI Orthopaedics are developing surgical instruments to deliver the technique while Cambridge University will undertake the clinical trials.  The total project cost across the three partners is £781k of which £545k will be funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Each year around 180,000 patients have total hip or knee replacements in the UK. Don Wellings (pictured), founder and CEO of SpheriTech, says polymers that he and his team are developing have the potential to revolutionise regenerative medicine, including treatment for joint degeneration.  The company are already making great strides on spinal cord repair and skin healing.

“We believe the new techniques we are developing could ultimately delay hip and other joint replacement operations and potentially make them obsolete in the coming years,” says Dr Wellings.

He adds: “Treatment to hips is required when the cartilage in the joint disintegrates, eventually causing bone to rub on bone, making it painful to walk. We are developing a polymer that surgeons can insert into the hip joint which will regenerate the cartilage and the underlying bone.  It means that if the joint deterioration can be caught early enough, using key-hole surgery techniques, surgeons will be able to take away the damaged tissue and replace it with SpheriTech’s polymer.

“The amount of cartilage that generally needs replacing measures about 1-2cm in diameter.  SpheriTech polymer, Proliferate® will be inserted into the joint through a tube, with surgeons using cameras to guide the delivery of the polymer to the prepared site.  It will then regenerate the cartilage and underlying bone thus repairing the joint and avoiding the need for an intrusive and major hip-replacement operation.”

Dr Wellings says the Innovate UK funding will help fund two years of further research to develop and fine-tune the polymer and delivery technique which will be followed up by clinical studies.  He believes the polymer technology will trigger repair of the hip joint within weeks.

“This will revolutionise hip treatments – reducing costs to the health care industry, making treatment speedier and safer for patients, reducing post-operative care and the expense of physiotherapy.  Potentially this new form of treatment could, in the longer term, minimise the need for total hip replacements altogether.”

Dr Wellings adds: “The current trials are focused on hip joints but this technique can be adapted to treat knee, shoulder and elbow joints. Our polymers can also regenerate bone and we are researching how they can be introduced for the treatment of trauma injury which would also revolutionise the way surgeons treat major bone injury.”

SpheriTech is also working on a project to develop synthetic blood by effectively producing artificial red blood cells.  This new ‘blood substitute’, SpheriSome® Hb, could ultimately end the necessity for the blood donors’ programme.

Dr Wellings has more than 35 years’ experience in the world of science and is internationally recognised as an authority on peptide synthesis, polymer particle design and chromatography. He launched SpheriTech in 2009 to develop his novel technology for the manufacture of polymeric microspheres for the life science and healthcare industries.

A regular speaker at international bio-science conferences and author of numerous scientific texts, Dr Wellings is sole inventor on 17 patents.