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4 September, 2017 - 16:44 By Tony Quested

$1 million funding for Cambridge ‘liver on a chip’ pioneers

Stemnovate Ruchi Sharma

Two Cambridge companies are feeling a million dollars after sharing in an award equating to that amount from Innovate UK to develop what could prove a personalised medicine gamechanger.

ideaSpace-based Stemnovate and ANB Sensors in Cambourne are working to advance ‘liver on a chip’ technology that will improve drug testing and help patients by increasing efficacy and effectiveness and potentially develop individually tailored medicine.

The new stem cell technique negates the need for testing in animals or humans.

Dr Ruchi Sharma, Stemnovate’s CEO, founder and lead on the project, has long been concerned with limitations of animal testing for human drug development due to differences in species physiology.

She said: “It takes 10-15 years to launch a new drug with an average cost of approximately $5 billion. Drug failures and market withdrawal are hugely expensive and pose a great risk to patients.”

She stressed that one of the biggest challenges was figuring out which drug candidates were likely to harm the liver before testing them in humans. The ‘one size fits all,' approach currently dominant in drug development was suboptimal and often led to drug failure putting patients at risk. 

“This is not surprising; after all there are multiple differences between humans which range from genetic make up, physiology, environment and lifestyle – all of which may interact and limit the drug’s success for individual patients,” she adds.

“Having the organ on a chip, instead of in the human or an animal, has multiple benefits. For starters, it is more ethical as the process does not involve animal or human testing. It is also safer for the patients themselves.”

She said that the new technology enabled identification of problems early in the medicine development process and could reduce cost by as much as $30 million per product launch. It also improves launch success rate by a quarter, she argues.

Stemnovate and ANB Sensors Limited have teamed up with pharma to engineer the system. They claim it can faithfully replicate human liver biology by taking into account patients’ individual genetic backgrounds. This makes the technology more sensitive to individual patient’s circumstances, more accurate and more patient-friendly, according to Dr Nathan Lawrence, CTO at ANB Sensors.

“The team’s aim is to integrate stem cell research and engineering to help patients. Developing such microphysiological models which are representative of human physiology is a big and important part of our project.”

Stemnovate’s co-founders, Professor David Hay and Dr Adrian Fisher have a track record in this type of work. They have developed cutting edge stem cell and Microengineering platform technologies at the University of Edinburgh and in Cambridge.

Dr Hay is group leader at MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine while Dr Fisher runs the electrochemical and micro engineering group in Cambridge in the Centre for Research in Electrochemical Science and Technology (CREST) and within the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) in Singapore.

Their enthusiasm for the potential liver on a chip solution is shared by 
Mario Monshouwer, senior scientific director for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, who believes that such new stem-cell based technologies will transform medicine discovery in the very near future.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Stemnovate CEO Dr Ruchi Sharma 

Kiss Communications

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