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Cells survive two extra weeks in transit with Atelerix gel

The Atelerix gel with co-founder Dr Steve Swioklo
The Atelerix gel with co-founder Dr Steve Swioklo

Atelerix, which has pioneered the storage and transport of cells at room temperature, has received investments totalling £200k from the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund (UKI2S) accelerator programme and Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.

An Innovate UK grant for £140,000 was matched by a new investment of £60,000 from UKI2S. The funding will support the development of room-temperature solutions for shipping therapeutic cells as part of the company’s ‘BloodReady’ project.

Atelerix, which has its business HQ on Babraham Research Campus , provides scalable methods of cell preservation, transport and re-presentation for patient administration to offer cell therapy developers and manufacturers flexibility in workflows, and remove the need for expedited shipments of frozen packages.

There are three different versions of the company’s alginate gel – BeadReady (for suspended cells), WellReady (for plated cells) and TissueReady (for tissue).

“You mix the cell with our gel and they become encapsulated in beads, and the beads are good for a couple of weeks,” Atelerix CEO and co-founder Dr Mick McLean told the Cambridge Independent. “We sell products to our customers, so for instance a company on Granta Park might want to ship some cells to San Diego, they buy products from us to package up their cells in a box and make the shipment.”

Atelerixhas “40 customers around the world, 10 are in the UK and the rest in Asia, the US and the rest of Europe”. The gel is patented in the US and Europe.

“It’s a pharma-grade product made and then sold as kits,” says Dr McLean. “It contains everything you need to package up the cells. By adding our ingredient the solution moves from a liquid to a gel – and then, at the other end, another tube of our product reverses that process.”

Aterlix alginate gel packages are a transformative solution to cell transportation. Photo: John Millard
Aterlix alginate gel packages are a transformative solution to cell transportation. Photo: John Millard

Living cells are fragile and short-lived outside of their natural environment. Therapies that are frozen for storage can reduce the viability and potency of the cells when thawed for injection into the patient.

Extending the shelf-life of the cells could ensure hospitals have flexibility to schedule operating theatres to administer the products, and enable many more patients to be treated with novel, potentially curative therapies.

The technology enables unfrozen human cells to be transported at temperatures between 4C and 25C to help preserve and extend their functional viability and potency. Small-scale research projects have shown the technology to be effective with a wide variety of cell types. The new Innovate UK funding will enable the company to scale these methods, enabling larger volumes of cells to be safely transported while continuing to preserve their viability.

Dr McLean added: “Cellular therapies offer the possibility of treatments for diseases and conditions that cannot be approached by conventional drugs. New capabilities enabling storage and transport of therapeutic cells are vital if these life-saving treatments are to be made widely available to many more patients.”

There is another strong reason why Atelerix’s products and service is finding traction - a no-deal exit form the EU would mean delays at customs, which would make the freezing process a far greater risk.

“In a perverse way a no-deal exit could boost our business because if our customers ship cells to their colleagues or to customers in the EU, if it is a no-deal then the delays at borders will get worse, so if they’re frozen they’re going to melt in Calais, but our technology means they can endure for another couple of weeks.”

Dr Mick McLean, CEO and co-founder of Atelerix
Dr Mick McLean, CEO and co-founder of Atelerix

The company was a spin-out from Newcastle University and was incorporated in June 2017.

“The alginate has been known for years but what our co-founder Professor Che Connon found is that if they are kept at room temperature nothing happens, they don’t change, they don’t die. So we can use alginate gel to sustain the cells. Ultimately it’s derived from seaweed .”

The gel solution eliminates the need for complex cryoshipping logistics and potentially harmful freeze-thaw processes, and offers greater flexibility, convenience and security as critical samples are shipped around the world.

“We believe our innovative human cell preservation technology could be paradigm changing for cold supply logistics, and we are proud to have it recognised by such a highly respected grant-funding body.”

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