WPI spinoff VitaThreads to make biopolymer sutures

Harry Wotton, CEO, VitaThreads

VitaThreads LLC, a new life sciences company focused on making biopolymer threads and sutures for stem cell delivery and other uses, has been spun out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The company, which CEO Harry Wotton said was incorporated two weeks ago, was founded by two WPI biomedical engineering professors, George Pins and Glenn Gaudette. It will commercialize the microthread technology under a license from WPI as a new treatment for common sports injuries and heart attacks and as a new way to deliver stem cells to regenerate damaged tissues in people and animals.

The company will have access to a computer-controlled extruder designed and built in Gaudettes lab to ramp up microthread production. It will operate initially within WPIs Bioengineering Institute at Gateway Park.

Pins and Gaudette will be scientific advisors to VitaThreads management, which includes co-founders Adam Collette, vice president of product development, and Wotton, who graduated from WPI in 1994. The four are the only employees now.

Cell therapies and tissue regeneration are coming to the clinic, and we believe the VitaThreads platform will be an important delivery system for these new therapies, said Wotton. He has two other startups to his name, veterinary orthopedics company Securos Inc. and International Veterinary Distribution Network Inc., both of Charlton. He sold both in 2007 for a total of $5 million to MWI Veterinary Supply Inc. of Idaho.

It was a great experience, and but I was ready for new challenges, Wotton said. It was time for me to get out of the big corporate environment and get back to a startup, which is what I really love. And the opportunity to work with the team at VitaThreads was a perfect fit.

About $1 million in National Institutes of Health and other grants has gone into the technology development at WPI, and Wotton said the company has $200,000 in funding now from government Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and from the companys owners. We need to get $500,000 to $1 million over the next 18 months to get to the next level, said Wotton, who also is trying to entice angel investors to contribute.

Made of collagen, fibrin, and other biologic materials, biopolymer microthreads about the width of a human hair can be braided into cable-like structures that mimic natural connective tissues. First developed in Pinss lab as a potential tool for repairing torn anterior cruciate ligaments in the knee, the microthreads were adapted by Pins and Gaudette for use as biological sutures to deliver bone marrow-derived stem cells to regenerate cardiac muscle damaged during a heart attack. Other WPI labs are using the threads, seeded with various cell types, as scaffolds for wound-healing and skeletal muscle regeneration, among other purposes, according to WPI.

VitaThreads plans to develop the microthread technology for a range of human clinical uses, but its first commercial product will deliver stem cells for the animal medicine market. Stem cell therapies are still in the research and development phase for humans, but they are a reality today in animal medicine, Wotton said. Every year thousands of horses and dogs have stem cell injections that heal torn ligaments and other connective tissues; this technology will be able to deliver those stem cells much more efficiently. He said the types of injuries that ended the careers of race horses like Barbaro and more recently Ill Have Another are targets for the stem cell treatment. It has high efficiency in delivery of stem cells, he said. Current methods use intravenous delivery, injections, hydrogels and scaffolds.

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WPI spinoff VitaThreads to make biopolymer sutures

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