Making new medicines is a difficult business, with the drug development process being risky, expensive and time consuming. Fewer than 20 percent of drugs tested in clinical trials gain approval, and it costs over $1 billion to produce a new drug in a process that take over 12 years on average. With the increasing pressure to deliver short-term results, many CEOs find it difficult to justify investments in the development of innovative new drugs that are more risky, too often resulting in “me too” drugs.
The Boston-based startup Emulate develop Organs-on-Chips technology with the ambitious goal of helping change preclinical drug development and improve the efficiency of drug making. Their system integrate micro-engineering with living human cells to accurately recreate human biology and disease states. For example, they can develop a brain with Alzheimer’s to predict human response with much more precision and control than current solutions using cell-culture or animal-based testing. Last year, the startup published a paper in Nature Methods showing how its lung on a chip could help model asthma and COPD.
The chips has a wide applicability, and Emulate is collaborating with industry, government agencies and academia to develop new disease models, finding new novel treatments, safety testing of new chemicals, enabling safer design of new consumer products, and new applications in personal health and precision medicine. Their vision is to develop chips based on our own individual living cells, potentially transforming the understanding of our own health and how medicine is practiced.
The technology is an innovative solution to one of the most controversial problems of the pharmaceutical industry. It can speed the drug development process, significantly cut costs, identify new therapeutic targets to develop novel treatments, and with their vision of personalized medicine, it could potentially change current guidelines and regulations to gain market approval. These chips are perfect solutions for the emerging approach of personalized medicine, where treatment and prevention strategies are developed based on the individual’s genes, environment and lifestyle. They could determine which drugs are most effective, dosage, and even develop specific drugs for individuals.
However, the most admirable about Emulate is their bold vision of the future. The healthcare industry is for the most part heavily regulated, with many having clear ideas and thoughts of what is possible and not. While it is important to follow regulations, it is equally important to think outside the box and evolve. Emulate have this amazing vision of what healthcare could be in the future, not only transforming how medicine is practiced, but how it is understood.
The startup recently raised $28 million in a Series B round. The funding comes from new backers LabCorp, and venture firms OSFund, Atel Ventures and ALS Finding a Cure foundation, as well as existing investors, including billionaire Hansjorg Wyss. The money will be used to increase the number of employees from 40 to 85 by the end of the year, and to enable the commercial launch of “Human Emulation System”, a plug and play version of the technology. It is expected that the product will be launched later this year.