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The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Professors create novel wound dressing

Photo Courtesy: Michael S. Wirtz

Photo Courtesy: Michael S. Wirtz

Former research professors in Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems have developed an innovative wound healing technology using natural soy proteins that could potentially replace current expensive wound dressing options.

Peter Lelkes, the head researcher on the project, collaborated with Dara Woerdeman and Anat Katsir while at Drexel to develop the new technology. The recently patented technology has been licensed to Eqalix Inc., a regenerative medicine company based in Reston, Virginia, which seeks to market it as a product called OmegaSkin.

Injuries such as large cuts, diabetic ulcers or full body burns that require wound dressings are often severe cases for which the body needs assistance to heal properly. Traditional treatments such as gauze and bandages cover up the wound and prevent debris from entering, possibly preventing infections, but they are passive treatment options. A wound dressing actively helps the body mend itself by providing a moist environment that facilitates cellular migration and skin regrowth.

Current options for wound dressings include neonatal foreskin (infant foreskin discarded from circumcision); cadaver skin; or animal skin, such as from cows, horses, and pigs. While these options have had success in the past, they are extremely expensive and time-consuming to harvest, during which time patients continuing to suffer from their injuries begin to develop scar tissue. The new soy protein-based wound dressing is a much cheaper and more viable option that is derived from a source that is easy to harvest and inexpensive to produce.

“There is no competition between the two,” Lelkes said. “A 5-square-centimeter [three-quarters of a square inch] wound dressing using current sources can cost thousands of dollars and has some potential to transmit diseases. A plant-based wound dressing is inexpensive, green and much more effective.”

An article titled “Electrospun Soy Protein Scaffolds as Wound Dressings: Enhanced Reepithelialization in a Porcine Model of Wound Healing,” published in May in the medical journal “Wound Medicine,” showed enhanced healing in wounds treated with OmegaSkin compared to those treated with a control dressing. OmegaSkin also allowed appendages such as hair follicles and sweat glands to regrow, which didn’t occur with some of the other current sources. The new technology has applications in chronic and acute wounds and promotes skin regrowth and significantly reduces the risk of transmitting diseases associated with current wound dressings.

According to Lelkes, the purpose of the project was to develop a cheap alternative for current wound dressing options for countries that can’t afford them. Pharmaceutical companies often develop a new drug at a cost, patent the drug and introduce it to the market with a large profit margin. While the same result could occur here, Lelkes hopes that isn’t the case.

“The main idea is to find something that is inexpensive and affordable that can be used in countries that can’t afford an overly expensive health system,” Lelkes said. “Most countries can’t afford the exorbitant prices pharmaceutical companies often place on newly patented medicines, and I hope that doesn’t occur here.”

According to Seoh, a strategic partner or an acquirer, rather than Eqalix, will most likely set the price for OmegaSkin. Investors and large companies prefer to maximize profits and typically set prices as high as the market will bear in light of applicable competition.

However, due to restructuring at the beginning of this year by a new rule adopted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pricing for skin substitutes was bundled and capped so that reimbursement rates to hospitals for performing skin grafting procedures are substantially below previous rates. So it is in the best interest of hospitals to use cheaper substitutes in order to make higher profits.

Thus, Seoh believes OmegaSkin, with its low production cost, is perfectly situated to thrive in the emerging realities of lower reimbursement rates, which should translate into lower prices for patients.

The project was funded using a grant from The Coulter-Drexel Translational Research Partnership Program. According to Drexel’s website, the program is used to make proof-of-concept investments in translational research aimed at advancing biomedical technologies toward commercialization. The result of the project, in addition to the product, is a patent on the technology titled “Alimentary Protein-Based Scaffolds for Wound Healing, Regenerative Medicine and Drug Discovery.”

The patent was licensed to Eqalix by Drexel in order to commercialize the product and bring it to market. Under the customary licensing terms, Drexel will receive milestone-driven payments and royalties based on future sales. According to Thomas Seoh, president and CEO of Eqalix, the company plans to file appropriate product applications with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory bodies late next year and to hopefully obtain marketing approval in 2015.

The new technology adds to Drexel’s growing leadership in creating new biomedical technologies. By licensing the patent, Drexel aims to encourage researchers to stretch the boundaries of current technologies and contribute to the well-being of the greater community by sharing the insights that they gain in doing so.