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Organ-on-a-chip maker Nortis gearing up for 2015 product launch

Seattle organ-on-a-chip maker Nortis is gearing up to launch a microfluidic product to help pharma researchers reduce the error, cost and suffering that can come with animal testing. The company projects it’ll have an organ-mimicking product ready in the first quarter of next year, and is currently securing a production site in Seattle to manufacture the chips. The company […]

Seattle organ-on-a-chip maker Nortis is gearing up to launch a microfluidic product to help pharma researchers reduce the error, cost and suffering that can come with animal testing. The company projects it’ll have an organ-mimicking product ready in the first quarter of next year, and is currently securing a production site in Seattle to manufacture the chips.

The company just raised $2 million in angel funding to do so, CEO Thomas Neumann said.

Nortis, founded in 2012, is a University of Washington spinout operating out of the school’s incubator. It’s developing next-gen microfluidic chips, generating small segments of human tissues and organs for in-vitro studies.

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“The whole lab-on-a-chip concept is pretty hot right now,” Neumann said. “We really want to give researchers and drug developers a better tool to bring drugs to the clinic much faster.”

Nortis “came up with some tricks,” Neumann said, to create blood vessels on the chips, so that these organ microcosms actually have living vasculature that supply cells with nutrients. For instance, when a pharma researcher wants to test drugs on the chip, it can add them to the fluid stream, mimicking the  drug uptake pattern that’s already happening in the human body.

The company, which employs 16, is working on a number of “organoids” on these microfluidic chips, such as on the kidney, intestines and liver. It received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help researchers study malaria, has developed a model that mimics the blood-brain barrier, and recently received an angiogenesis grant that will help Nortis scientists elucidate the process of growing blood vessels.

Nortis is part of a prestigious national Microphysiological Systems investigation designed to create 3-D chips with living cells and tissues that accurately model the structure and function of human organs.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Actually, as part of the NIH budget request to the U.S. Senate this April, Nortis’ kidney-on-a-chip research was put on display by NIH Director Francis Collins and NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences Director Chris Austin. (It’s actually a fairly interesting argument about how tech like Nortis’ is “making animal models irrelevant” – just scroll to about 1:48:00 on the video)

“I’ve been working on these chips now for nearly a decade, and I had a vision they would take off,” Neumann said. “You see worldwide that there’s now a rush for this technology.”