Biotech startup sees microchips as a human’s best friend in drug development, raises $9.2M

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Hurel 1There’s a saying that people who see animals as ineffective and misleading subjects for drug testing like to use: Cancer has been cured many times already. In mice. A biotechnology startup has developed a technology platform it claims does a better job of indicating the effect drugs would have on humans in the preclinical phase of development than animals. It has raised $9.2 million in a Series A round for its lead product — a technology that replicates the human liver, using living cells, and referred to as organ-on-a-chip or human-on-a-chip.

Why a liver? Because it’s the best way to assess a drug’s toxicity in pre-clinical trials, according to Hurel Corp. CEO Robert Freedman. The platform underlines an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of using animals to replicate the effects of drugs in the human body.

Spring Mountain Capital led the Series A round, according to a company statement. Funds from the financing will go towards Hurel’s commercial launch of the organ on a chip as well as to support research and development of its technologies and future products, as well as supporting the company.

Although there is wide agreement in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors that animals are not the most accurate way to assess how drugs will affect humans, the US Food and Drug Administration requires drug developers to test the effects of their treatments in two animal studies.

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In addition to replicating the effects of liver tissue, Hurel also has microfluidic devices that can replicate multiple tissue interactions.

Still the FDA may be coming around if a pilot project with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Institutes of Health is anything to go by. On the FDA blog, FDA Chief Scientist Dr. Jess Goodman talked about the challenge toxicity has posed in medical product development and in assessing environmental hazards. “Technologies like Human on a Chip could help shrink the time frame it takes for new treatments to move to human testing and approval. These new tools can help identify toxicity earlier in product development, thus protecting patients, lowering development costs, and speeding new treatments to patients in need.”

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Stephanie Baum

By Stephanie Baum

Stephanie Baum is the East Coast Innovation Reporter for MedCityNews.com. She enjoys covering healthcare startups across health IT, drug development and medical devices and innovations deployed to improve medical care. She graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and has worked across radio, print and video. She's written for The Christian Science Monitor, Dow Jones & Co. and United Business Media.
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