Delft, the Netherlands-based Bi/ond (pronounced beyond), a company that empowers biological innovation by engineering microchips that nourish, stimulate and monitor tissues and cells, announced on Tuesday that it has raised $4M (nearly €3.66M) in a fresh round of funding.
The round was led by Netherlands-based FORWARD.one, a venture capital firm designed to address the needs of early-stage startups.
Speaking on the development, Robin van Boxsel, Partner at FORWARD.one, says, “Cinzia and her team have done an amazing job of creating innovations around Organ-on-a-Chip and getting the platform into the hands of clinicians so that they can deliver therapeutics to patients. We are a strong believer that their technology will play a key role in improving future drug development and we are excited to be part of their journey.”
Empowering biological innovation by engineering microchips
Founded in 2017 by Dr Cinzia Silvestri, Dr Nikolas Gaio and Dr William Solano, Bi/ond’s mission is to help researchers factor in diversity early on in drug development through silicon microchips. The company’s platform enables the culturing of complex 3D tissues (organoids, ex vivo tissue, spheroids, and microtissues) for applications in kidney research, oncology and cardiac simulation.
Dr Silvestri says, “Balancing microelectronics with the delicate requirements of tissue and muscle development on a chip is the hardest part of developing Organ-on-a-Chip and that’s what we cracked early on.”
Currently, the company offers two different chips. The first microchip is called inCHIPit – the name is based on the Latin word “incipit,” which means “here begins…”, signaling a starting point. The company claims that inCHIPit is versatile, but it is currently thinking of it in terms of cancer research. The second, called MUSbit, is for muscles. With this chip, cardiac and skeletal micro-tissues can be anchored to two pillars in an open well that sits above a porous microfluidic channel where a perfusable blood vessel can be recreated.
The Organ-on-a-Chip technology
Organ-on-a-Chip combines 3D microfluidic cell cultures with a microchip to simulate the behaviour, mechanics and physiological response of an entire organ or organ system. The expertise of Dr Gaio has enabled the company to deliver reproducible and scalable chips for high content biological assay, something that is critical for consistency and ongoing monitoring in clinical research.
Bi/ond’s technology has already been deployed across Europe, including at Leiden University Medical Center, where clinicians are making heart tissues using Bi/ond’s microchips; and Erasmus University Medical Center where researchers are using patients’ own breast cancer samples to guide therapy.
At the Leiden University Medical Center, Bi/ond chips are used to create the environment for beating heart muscle tissues derived from induced pluripotent stem cells. Such induced pluripotent stem cells can be made, for example, from the skin of patients, allowing clinicians to obtain heart tissue with the patient’s genetic background. They are now starting to expose the beating heart tissues to drugs to analyse how they respond, potentially to predict how patients will respond as well.
At the Erasmus University Medical Center, researchers have built a microfluidic platform for the assessment of treatment response using patients’ own tumour tissue slices under precisely controlled growth conditions. This enables them to keep breast cancer tumour tissues alive for a long time to study responses to chemotherapy and to choose the proper treatment for each individual cancer patient.
The proceeds from this round will help the company to bring its two chips to market by the end of this year. The funds will also be invested in expanding the company’s sales team. “By the end of next year, we want to double our team, reaching around 20 people,” says Dr Silvestri.
Dr Silvestri also adds, “This new investment has come not just because of the innovations that we developed in these areas, but also because of the clinical proof our partners demonstrated in the laboratories across Europe’s leading medical organisations. With this investment, we can also grow and invest in our own facility with equipment to mature the version of the platform to include all the electronics and sensors.”