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TissueGene Has New Leader at Helm

robert newman tissuegene

The new face on campus belongs to Bob Newman, the chief operating officer at TissueGene. 

What’s he working on?

Regenerating cartilage in arthritic knees.

Neman took the helm at TissueGene in April and will lead the biopharmaceutical company through Phase 3 clinical trials of a drug called Invossa. If all goes according to plan, patients will enroll in the clinical trial in early 2016.

TissueGene is one of approximately 35 companies located at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. One of the campus’s long-time tenants, TissueGene now employs about 20 people here. Newman plans to hire more people to work on the clinical study.

Newman, a Canadian who studied animal biology in college, spent about 15 years working for biotechnology companies in his native country before moving to the United States. He lived mostly in New England, working for biotech companies developing oncology drugs. His work focused on sales, marketing and development of cancer drugs. Most recently, he worked for ZIOPHARM Oncology in Boston.

In April, he was tapped to be chief operating officer at TissueGene, the top company position in the United States. TissueGene’s president is based in Korea.

“I’m really excited about the science,” Newman said. “This company has done an incredible job of flying under the radar. I want to change that.’

Invossa would treat osteoarthritis of the knee.

When patients have knee pain, Newman explained, they often seek medical attention. Doctors generally recommend pain-relieving drugs or administer injections that lubricate the knees. Those treatments may relieve symptoms for a while but don’t get to the root of the problem.

Patients who continue to have pain often end up having knee replacement surgery.

Invossa would be an alternative to surgery. Administered by a doctor in an outpatient setting,  Invossa is a single injection that regenerates cartilage in the arthritic knee.

“That’s the holy grail to us,” Newman said of regenerative medicine.

Osteoarthritis of the knee is a significant problem in the United States, Newman said, with approximately 6.5 million patients in this country seeing doctors because of the ailment. Some patients have trouble with both knees; Newman estimates about 10 million knees are under doctor care.

Knee osteoarthritis could be a $2 billion market, Newman said.

Clinical trial Phase 2 data were encouraging, Newman said, with statistically significant evidence that the drug helps relieve knee pain and restore knee function.

In May, TissueGene got the go ahead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials. The trials will include 1,020 patients, with two-thirds receiving the active drug and one-third receiving the placebo.

The trial is designed to evaluate improvement in knee function, pain and the width of joint space. If approved, the drug would be the first disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug for treating knee osteoarthritis.

Stimulating cartilage growth while improving quality of life is an exciting prospect, Newman said.

“We are an aging population,” Newman said. “This has the potential to benefit millions of people.”

In addition to Invossa, the regenerative medicine company is working on drugs that would induce the regeneration of discs and nerves. Those projects were put on the back burner while the company focused on knees, Newman said, but he is hoping to start animal studies on those products soon.