Roche and Take­da try on Em­u­late’s 'or­gan chip' tech for R&D

Two phar­ma gi­ants — Roche and Take­da — are buy­ing in­to a drug test­ing tech­nol­o­gy that wants to be the next gen­er­a­tion’s “lab rat,” ink­ing part­ner­ships with the tech’s mak­er to in­tro­duce the sys­tems to their R&D labs.

The tech, made by Wyss In­sti­tute spin­off Em­u­late, in­cludes small chips de­signed to hold liv­ing cells in cham­bers. These chips are en­gi­neered to recre­ate the en­vi­ron­ment cells might ex­pe­ri­ence in the hu­man body, in­tro­duc­ing me­chan­i­cal forces that mim­ic breath­ing, for ex­am­ple.

Geral­dine Hamil­ton

Test­ing drugs in cells that are in dish­es — or even test­ing drugs in an­i­mals — is a flawed process, Em­u­late’s pres­i­dent and CSO Geral­dine Hamil­ton tells me. An­i­mals are not hu­mans, and so they of­ten fail to pre­dict how drugs will per­form in pa­tients. And cells in dish­es don’t work like they do in the hu­man body, so they aren’t very pre­dic­tive ei­ther.

Com­pa­nies have been work­ing on bet­ter ways to test drugs for a while, with com­pa­nies like San Diego-based Organo­vo “bio­print­ing” hu­man tis­sue and Ste­moniX build­ing “mi­cro or­gans” by struc­tur­ing hu­man iP­SC-de­rived cells in­to mi­cro­tis­sues.

But Hamil­ton says both these tech­nolo­gies are lack­ing.

“There are key fac­tors miss­ing: me­chan­i­cal forces, dy­nam­ic flow sys­tems, cir­cu­lat­ing im­mune cells,” she says. “While they re­tain some nice bi­olo­gies, they’re miss­ing these el­e­ments.”

Em­u­late’s S-1 Or­gan-Chip tech­nol­o­gy. Pho­to cour­tesy of Em­u­late.

Now Roche and Take­da are pay­ing to take Em­u­late’s tech for a test dri­ve. Roche will use Em­u­late’s Hu­man Em­u­la­tion Sys­tem across mul­ti­ple R&D pro­grams in a three-year part­ner­ship, with the aim of dis­cov­er­ing and de­vel­op­ing new class­es of ther­a­peu­tic an­ti­bod­ies and drug com­bi­na­tions. One goal of the part­ner­ship is to use pa­tient-de­rived cells to make head­way on the idea of per­son­al­ized drug safe­ty, us­ing the chips to test how a pa­tient or pa­tient group might re­spond to a drug. Sci­en­tists from both com­pa­nies will work with­in Em­u­late’s labs in Boston. The re­search will ini­tial­ly fo­cus on us­ing Em­u­late’s “Lung-Chip” and “Brain-Chip,” with the op­por­tu­ni­ty to ex­pand to use oth­er “Or­gan-Chips.”

Take­da is specif­i­cal­ly us­ing Em­u­late’s “In­stes­tine-Chip” for gas­troin­testi­nal dis­ease R&D.

“The abil­i­ty to ac­cu­rate­ly mod­el the in­testi­nal ep­ithe­li­um is a key to open­ing up new in­sights in­to the com­plex path­ways of GI dis­eases and drug mech­a­nisms of ac­tion, and we are de­light­ed to ap­ply our In­tes­tine-Chip to sup­port drug in­no­va­tion with Take­da, a world leader in de­vel­op­ing treat­ments for GI dis­eases,” Hamil­ton said.

Fi­nan­cial de­tails of the part­ner­ships were not dis­closed.


Vil­li-like struc­tures in­side Em­u­late’s In­tes­tine-Chip, which will be used by Take­da in new part­ner­ship. Em­u­late

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