What is Degenerative Disc Disease and What is Being Done to Address it

Chronic degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide, causing chronic pain that does not respond to typical treatments such as physical therapy, over-the-counter medications, and chiropractic care. This often leads to a costly and potentially ineffective search for pain relief. DiscGenics is a company led by CEO Flagg Flanagan and COO Bob Wynalek that is working towards a more effective and affordable treatment option for those with DDD.

The Challenges of DDD

Pain and Decreased Quality of Life

DDD is often diagnosed through MRI or X-ray, which show a degenerating or dark disc. This means that the intervertebral disc has begun to break down. The resulting pain can be severe, as the disc is similar to a shock absorber or strut in a vehicle. When the shocks or struts are working properly, the vehicle is stable and easy to control. However, when they break down, the vehicle becomes unstable and bouncy, making it difficult to drive. Similarly, when a degenerating disc begins to break down, the cells die and the disc loses its ability to maintain hydration and provide the necessary cushion for stability. The disc may bulge and shrink, leading to a loss of disc height. The bulging disc may also put pressure on the adjacent nerve roots coming out of the spinal canal, causing pain and potentially radiating pain down the legs . Once this degeneration occurs, it does not self-repair and continues to worsen. It can also result in a herniated disc, where weakness in the annulus of the disc causes a bulge that pushes on the nerve roots.

Costly and Ineffective Traditional Treatments

In some cases, when a patient’s disease has progressed and conservative treatments have been ineffective, surgery may be necessary. Traditional DDD surgeries include discectomy procedures and spinal fusion. These can be expensive and often do not provide relief. A discectomy procedure involves surgically removing the bulging disc tissue in a minimally invasive way, creating a disc defect. Spinal fusion is an open, invasive surgery where the diseased disc is removed and a spacer called a cage is implanted, along with screws, rods, or plates and a bone graft substitute, to fuse two or more vertebrae together. This extra rigidity can cause wear and tear on the levels above and below the fusion, leading to adjacent-level disease. The success rate of spinal fusion procedures is only about 50%. Even after the surgery, patients may still experience pain from other sources.

What DiscGenics is Doing to Help Those With DDD 

DiscGenics’ injectable discogenic progenitor cell therapy (IDCT or rebonuputemcel) for DDD is being studied in clinical trials as a potential solution for the early to moderate stages of chronic DDD. IDCT is an early intervention therapy designed to significantly reduce the time and money spent on traditional treatments that often do not work. With IDCT, the patient receives an injection in a treatment room under a c-arm to place the needle. The treatment takes a maximum of one hour. Our initial clinical study has shown that IDCT can provide relief for up to two years and improve symptoms of pain and function, as well as quality of life. IDCT is also very cost-effective compared to other treatment options and can significantly reduce costs for the patient. Our goal is to not only provide relief for our patients, but also offer restorative improvement that may delay the need for further surgery or even prevent the need for surgery or pain medications such as opioids. Ultimately, our mission is to bring IDCT to market as a safe and effective treatment for DDD and to improve the lives of those suffering from this condition.