Effective joint-lubrication to reduce wear-related knee joint pain: AO-supported injectables could transform the treatment of knee osteoarthritis

Liposphere cofounders Ronit Goldberg (left) and Sabrina Jahn (right)
Scientist Ronit Goldberg, PhD, did not set out to become an entrepreneur but 13 years after becoming coinventor of a groundbreaking liposome-based lubrication technology, she is CEO of Liposphere, an innovative female-led, Israeli biomedical start-up spun out from the Weizmann Institute of Science in early 2019. Today—with support from the AO’s Development Incubator—the company’s AqueousJoint injectable has the potential to help osteoarthritis (OA) patients regain mobility and could set new standards in the continuum of osteoarthritis care.

OA is characterized by the degradation of the lubricious cartilage surface, and OA patients suffer from pain, loss of function, and poor quality of life. There is no cure for OA; in the end, OA patients will undergo total knee replacement surgery. 

Due to the lack of available curative therapies, the current standard of care focuses on pain management, including NSAIDs and intraarticular injections of hyaluronate-based viscosupplementation.

“These materials showed extremely low friction and wear. We were able to measure, as far as I know, the lowest shear forces ever measured under high pressures between articulating surfaces covered with these materials,” Goldberg said. “So, it was a real discovery.”

The Institute filed a first patent detailing the use of specific liposomes to reduce friction in 2010—with Goldberg among the coinventors—and, eventually, six more related patents. Goldberg explained that she and her Weizmann Institute of Science colleague—physicist Sabrina Jahn, PhD—successfully negotiated the right to commercialize the technology and cofounded their start-up, Liposphere, in early 2019.

With increasing longevity, there is a need to find an efficient treatment for OA patients and postpone the surgery to avoid more than one knee replacement procedure.” 

Ronit Goldberg, PhD

The scientific community sees the technology’s potential: The Spinoff Prize 2020, organized by Nature and Merck KGaA, recognized Liposphere as one of the 44 most exciting, science-based firms spun out of academic environment, and the company was recently voted best early-stage company during the yearly conference of the Alliance for Advanced Therapies in Orthopedics in 2023 (ATiO).

It is important to collaborate with experts in the orthopedic field to bring their insights, Goldberg said. It was cofounder Jahn’s connection to AO Research Institute Davos (ARI) Vice Director Mauro Alini, PhD, who recommended that Liposphere submit a project to the AO’s Development Incubator.

The AO is supporting Liposphere with ex vivo investigations at ARI to study AqueousJoint’s mechanical properties and a sheep study—also at ARI—to investigate the performance of the product. Additionally, the AO provides support to establish a quality management system and technical documentation for Liposphere’s orthopedic product.

Following a 150-patient clinical study that is now underway, upscaling of AqueousJoint production, and filing for a CE mark, the product could be available to surgeons—and patients—in 2025.

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