Portrait / Michaela Noll

Werte / N°24

A German-

Chinese joint

venture

An innovative method developed by cell biologist Michaela Noll promises a rapid cure for patients with cartilage damage. Her German startup is growing with the help of Chinese investor Yin Weiming

TEXT

Karsten Lemm


ILLUSTRATION

Paula Sanz Caballero

A

An unfortunate accident was all it took. A comminuted fracture in her left hand made Michaela Noll a patient of her own company, Meidrix, which had developed a unique treatment for cartilage damage in joints.

“I’ve always done difficult things with my left hand,” says the cell biologist, “and when you suddenly experience pain with every movement, this has an enormously adverse effect on your quality of life.” But just a few weeks after the accident she is now able to move her hand again, almost like normal – a fact that the sixty- year-old attributes to the innovative therapy that was applied.

To give the body a chance to repair cartilage defects on its own as quickly as possible, a collagen-based gel is injected into the injured joint. Collagen is the most common protein in the human body – it is found in the connective tissue, the skin, the bones and the ten- dons where it carries out important supportive and functional tasks and promotes the body’s natural regeneration. “The body tol- erates it very well,” explains Noll. “Worldwide, we have processed 12,000 implants to date and have observed no allergic reactions or other negative incidents.”

The company, based in Esslingen in the Stuttgart region, mar- kets its innovative medical product, ChondroFiller, in more than 20 countries, mainly in Europe, India and Latin America. China and the U.S. are next in line, once the company obtains the relevant ap- provals from the authorities in those countries. Each country has its own rules and certification processes. “We have already success- fully completed our first operations in China,” says Noll. This was only possible because the company received special approvals for specific pilot zones. “But it did allow us to get a foot in the door. And of course, we are very optimistic,” says the Meidrix boss. “It is a huge market and we are the scientific pioneers there.”

The innovative treatment originated at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart. For many years, Noll worked alongside her husband, Thomas Graeve, developing methods for treating connective tissue injuries with collagen. In 2009, this resulted in the formation of the compa- ny Amedrix, which developed a solid gel pad before the scientists concentrated on creating an implant that is initially a liquid.

“We now work with a two-chamber syringe, similar to two com- ponents,” explains Noll. “This has the advantage that the implant can be adapted to each patient.” The patented method drew in- ternational acclaim for the company with studies confirming the benefits compared to previous treatments.

In 2017 Graeve died and Amedrix slipped into bankruptcy. De- spite this, Noll began to search for investors and came into contact with Yin Weiming and Sun Yi, who were immediately impressed by the potential for the treatment. The investors from China joined the company as majority shareholders and enabled the German company to relaunch as Meidrix.

“They recognised this as a huge opportunity, also for the Asian market,” says Noll. After all, cartilage damage is a common condi- tion. In Germany alone, around five million patients are affected. Treatment with collagen injections could help many of them as long as the damage is not too serious. Statutory health insurers in Germany now often cover the costs of the innovative treatment. However, Noll realises that it will take time for the method to be- come fully accepted. “It is still a relatively new process and, unfor- tunately, the structures in hospitals don’t change overnight.”

The more the trend towards regenerative medicine gains ground, the better the opportunities will be for Meidrix to grow financially and, at the same time, cure patients all over the world. “If you en- able cartilage to regenerate at an early stage, it can stop the prob- lem from becoming worse,” says Noll. “And it is a real win when you regain movement in your joints.” She herself was able to re- move her support bandage soon after her fall. Her wrist was al- ready flexible enough to work at her desk again.

Dr Michaela Noll

Cartilage damage in joints is difficult to treat. The collagen treatment from meidrix biomedicals – originally developed at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart – is unique. Thanks to Chinese investors, the Esslingen-based company with seven em- ployees now has the capital it needs to ex- pand. The company has lodged applications worldwide for the treatment to be approved as a medical product. In Germany, some health insurers already cover the costs for treatment with ChondroFiller, developed by Michaela Noll and her husband, Thomas Graeve, who died in 2017.

meidrix.de

“We are the scientific pioneers in China

– a huge market”

Michaela Noll

Learn more about

Deutsche Bank Wealth Management and the topics that matter to us and our clients alike.