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CN Bio moves from organ-on-a-chip to human-on-a-chip

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The CN Bio Innovations team on the Science Park earlier this year. Picture: Keith Heppell
The CN Bio Innovations team on the Science Park earlier this year. Picture: Keith Heppell

CN Bio is “talking to contacts about donating systems for use” in the battle against Covid-19. ‘’

The bioengineering company has expertise in biological model development, bioengineering, microfluidics, data acquisition, sensing technologies and product development. It produces and sells the ‘organ-on-a-chip’ platform PhysioMimix which allows researchers to model human biology in the lab.

“The companies who would make best use of the technology would be pharma or biotech, maybe in Cambridge but with a global outlook,” says CEO David Hughes. “They may use PhysioMimix to test anti-virals or combination therapies of anti-virals. It’s ideal for Covid-19 tests.”

The cell culture company was founded in 2008: PhysioMimix has been on the market for two years and its potential is still being explored.

“We’re continuing to ship across the world though there has been some Covid-19 disruption making things more challenging,” says Dr Hughes.

“But we’re still getting business done and customers in Asia are starting to come through this crisis, which isn’t the case in Europe. Some clients in Shanghai are back at work, and back in the labs.”

The year started promisingly enough for CN Bio, which has 25 peer-reviewed publications showing the utility of its technology for different applications.

“We moved to the Science Park in February,” Dr Hughes says. “We have 30 people on the Park. There’s a small number continuing to do biology there.”

On March 2 CN Bio announced it had raised £7m in an investment round led by CITIC Securities Investment Co and supported by existing investor CN Innovations Holdings. This funding will help drive sales of the company’s products and services including the PhysioMimix platform, along with an expansion of its Science Park headquarters, including 4,000 sq ft of laboratory space.

CN Bio Innovations with, from left, James Craven, David Hughes and Patrick Driscoll. Picture: Keith Heppell
CN Bio Innovations with, from left, James Craven, David Hughes and Patrick Driscoll. Picture: Keith Heppell

Hao Fang, CEO of CITIC Securities Investment Co, said: “The organ-on-chip market is estimated to grow to $220million by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate of 39.9 per cent.

“Building on over 10 years of research and development of organ-on-chip technology, CN Bio is an exciting and promising investment. We look forward to the company’s future developments, poised to transform the process of generating human-relevant pre-clinical data to ultimately bring new medicines to market, quicker.”

Dr Hughes, who joined as head of engineering in 2010 and became CEO in 2018, has been developing the company’s US profile - in fact CN Bio has licensed IP from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from the start.

“We license the foundational patents from MIT,” he explains. “We produce our organ-on-a-chip technology from those patents, which they own – we pay them a royalty.”

Dr Hughes was also principal investigator on a $26m US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract developing human in vitro multi-organ platforms between 2012 and 2017.

“DARPA launched a competition in the US to build what was effectively a human-on-a-chip,” he explains. “It involved 10 organs or tissues being cultured together, communicating with each other for one month. We had to set up each individual set of cells and have them live together for one month, which was extremely complicated.”

The project played to CN Bio’s strengths. Its micro-physiological systems enable researchers to study drug metabolism, toxicology and specific disease models on single- and multi-organ systems. Providing efficiencies for pre-clinical drug testing with predictive human tissue-based data, CN Bio’s OOC technologies replicate the micro-environments, cell-cell interactions and biological processes that occur in vivo, to reliably bridge the gap between traditional cell culture assays and human studies, improving drug discovery while reducing research and development costs.

“The project was done at MIT and supported it by donating some of the organs. It went very well and we achieved the milestone.”

The organs were sited in ‘buckets’ linked using cells including the liver and gut, with a circulatory system mimicking the pumping of the heart. The liver-gut-brain links are being used to study Parkinson’s, while the heart-liver connections facilitated the analysis of cardiotoxic drugs.

“The liquid in the circulatory system is returned to a central chamber, which replicates blood supply so that its a continuous cycle. We made micro-pumps to be able to pump microlitres of liquid around, all the rates were scaled down, so it was very small and very precise.”

A study was published in the 2018 Scientific Reports Journal. The IP from the successful DARPA project “will be incorporated into future CN Bio products”.

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