How can we better predict how new drugs act in the human body? This was the main question when we started our publicly funded R&D project Body-on-a- Chip (BoC) in 2012. Too many new and promising drugs fail in very late stages of the development process because they are not efficient or produce unwanted – sometimes even dangerous – side effects. Our company InSphero, based in Switzerland and in the US, developed sand-grain-sized 3D microtissues which mimic human organs (such as liver or pancreas as well as many types of tumors) to solve this problem. All global top 10 pharmaceutical companies use and evaluate 3D InSight™ Microtissue Platforms to improve predictivity and biological relevance in drug discovery and safety testing.
“We can now test drugs on organ networks, instead of single organs, to better understand how they affect the human body as a whole”
Generous and visionary funding by the European Union allowed us to take the technology a step further. We created a polymer microfluidic chip which connects different 3D micro-organs and creates an abstract version of a human body, on a chip. This is how we can now test drugs on organ networks, instead of single organs, to better understand how they affect the human body as a whole. It means that animal testing in the future might become obsolete – or at least substantially reduced. Our work was also internationally recognized by Global 3Rs Awards program and NC3R's. Our own Olivier Frey, Head of Platforms and Technologies, was invited in March 2018 to present the Akura™ Flow technology to the European Parliament in Brussels (more information here).
We are currently beta testing the BoC platform, baptized Akura™ Flow, with commercial prototypes. This is only two years after the project was successfully completed! Hoffmann La Roche Pharmaceuticals in Basel is one of the beta testers and uses the platform in-house to investigate liver-tumor interaction. The Akura™ Flow system was also a top contender for the Innovation Award at the 2018 Society of Laboratory Automation and Science Annual Meeting in San Diego, USA.
Thanks to the excellent collaboration in our EU-sponsored FET Open project we were able to work with top-experts in Europe. It also helped us build a strong international network to make fast progress to commercialization. Academic partner ETH, who designed and produced the microfluidic chip, is still working closely with industrial partner InSphero. InSphero in return recruited Dr. Olivier Frey to continue his excellent work after being the project leader for BoC at ETH. Together with a small team, Olivier now develops next-generation microchips, instruments and several applications ranging from efficacy to safety tests using the new technology.
The Body-on-a-Chip project allowed us to work on the next wave of innovation for the company. We, our academic partners and AstraZeneca are proud to have made this project a success from start to commercial launch of a technology platform that will change the way new drugs are developed in the future: without animal testing.
This article was adapted from my blog post on the EU web site. Thanks to the EU team for helping with editing this article.