Scientists at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have secured $12 million in venture capital for the launch of Emulate, a company seeking to commercialize a polymer chip with automated instrumentation and software that predicts human responses to medicines, chemicals, and toxins.
Emulate is betting that its Organs-on-Chips platform will expedite laboratory testing of drugs, reduce the need for animal testing, and advance personalized medicine research. The size of a computer memory stick, the chip device contains hollow channels lined with living cells and tissues that mimic organ-level physiology.
Wyss earlier received funding to develop Organs-on-Chips from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Food & Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health. Wyss scientists, led by founding director Donald E. Ingber, and industry partners, including Sony and AstraZeneca, have worked since 2010 to develop chips and instrumentation that mimic at least 10 different organs, including the liver, gut, kidney, and bone marrow.
According to Ingber, the federal government is interested in the technology as a means of speeding the development of drugs that address medical emergencies such as H1N1 and SARS.
Bernard H. Munos, founder of the InnoThink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation and a former R&D strategist at Eli Lilly & Co., calls the chip a good idea whose time has come. “The technology is ready,” he says. “It could potentially be a big market. If it can eliminate the need for animals, you’re talking about a major impact on the economics of research.”