Cocoon’s Bioinjectable Technology: Spinning Silk into Advancements in Osteoarthritis Therapy

Before Ailis Tweed-Kent was CEO and Founder of Cocoon Biotech, she was a resident in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her clinical experience, sometimes treating patients 60 hours a week, helped her to see firsthand how badly innovative therapies are needed in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

“As a physician at Mass General Hospital, I saw four patients with chronic knee pain one afternoon in 2013,” she said. “Each left my office with a diagnosis of moderate osteoarthritis, a disease which eventually led to obesity, diabetes and job loss. I was frustrated by the lack of effective treatments.”

Research for a potentially novel treatment led Dr. Tweed-Kent to David Kaplan, a professor at Tufts University and the expert in medical applications for natural silk. Together they founded Cocoon Biotech, a promising young company developing innovative silk protein therapeutics for osteoarthritis.

Through a small virtual team of bio-engineers, industry experts and physicians, Cocoon Biotech is developing smooth, durable microscopic ball-bearings made from natural silk — which can be administered directly into the knee joint.

Osteoarthritis (OA) currently affects 27 million adults in the United States, and that number is estimated to reach 65 million by 2030. The disease occurs when cartilage breaks down in the joint space, leading to inflammation and pain, and results in more than $128 billion in management and treatment costs. Current therapies, including intra-articular injections (hyaluronic acid and steroids) aimed to relieve joint pain can be either ineffective, require multiple injections, have significant side effects, or end up in total knee replacement.

Dr. Tweed-Kent is uniquely positioned to find an innovative solution for the problem that she has seen repeatedly in the clinic. In addition to her Harvard medical degree, she holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame. Before founding Cocoon, she used her engineering and medical background to design and develop diagnostic technologies for global health, collaborating with organizations such as the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Global Health Delivery Project.

The pursuit of an innovative solution for OA led her to the research of Prof. Kaplan, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University, and Prof. Fiorenzo Omenetto, leader of the Laboratory for Ultrafast Nonlinear Optics and Biophotonics at Tufts. Cocoon’s scientific co-founders are leaders in biomaterials and the world’s experts in silk technologies, and together they have published more than 300 peer-reviewed publications on silk engineering and its potential applications.

Cocoon Biotech and Tufts University have entered into exclusive option and sponsored research agreements to explore the commercialization of new treatments for joint disease and arthritis using silk protein polymers. Cocoon’s platform technology is anticipated to leverage several unique properties of the silk protein: toughness, strength and the ability to withstand repeated cycles of wear. The lead product can be delivered locally in the knee to reduce friction and ease the wear and tear over time that leads to inflammation and can cascade to the destruction of cartilage.

The silk platform spans many biomedical and industrial applications. Dr. Tweed-Kent said the silk material is also exciting to locally administer therapeutics, as it can be combined with existing or new drugs to target specific biochemical pathways.

To help guide the research, development, and commercialization of the silk injectable product, Cocoon has established a scientific board of advisors, including John Hardin M.D., who has served as Vice President and Director of Osteoarthritis Research at the Arthritis Foundation, and is an expert in osteoarthritis. Additionally, the company is also collaborating with experienced regulatory consultants, established contract research organizations, clinical trial experts, orthopedic surgeons, finance consultants and MassBio/MassConnect.

The Cocoon Biotech team continues to build its intellectual property throughout the development of additional applications in the treatment of OA, veterinary medicine and ophthalmology. The company has made excellent progress over the past several months securing key patents, raising seed financing, and advancing the product through initial animal safety and efficacy studies.  It is embarking on further financing through Family Offices to complete pre-clinical and clinical studies in order to demonstrate preliminary safety and efficacy, ultimately leading toward FDA approval. Upon completion of key studies, Cocoon Biotech plans to apply for FDA approval in the veterinary market, creating an early opportunity for revenues while still pursuing the path to FDA approval in humans.

“We intend to build a lasting company that markedly improves the health of millions of people and provides new freedom to live a full life,” said Dr. Tweed-Kent.