The UK company MicrofluidX has closed a €1.6M (£1.4 M) seed funding round to develop a microfluidic platform that could produce cell and gene therapies more cheaply than conventional cell cultures.
The funding round was led by UKI2S, a national seed investment fund targeting early-stage companies, as well as Longwall Ventures and Cambridge Angels.
MicrofluidX will use the funding to establish a prototype of its technology. With this prototype, the company then aims to compare the performance of its microfluidics approach to current cell culture techniques used to produce gene and cell therapies.
In the dynamic cell therapy space, one of the major bottlenecks facing the field is the manufacture and scaling process, as manual cell culturing techniques are often required. Applying microfluidic technology to the manufacturing process may be an answer to this issue.
Although it is less developed at the manufacturing level, microfluidics technology has long been part of research in cell biology. It has several advantages over conventional cell cultures. For example, it allows cell cultures to be controlled more precisely on chips, increases automation, and can reduce the consumption of expensive ingredients in the cell culture process by a factor of twenty.
According to MicrofluidX, its platform could scale up microfluidics far beyond just biology research. The aim is to run dozens of cell cultures in parallel, with the capacity to produce cells more cheaply and with a higher yield than with current manufacturing techniques.
“The result is that we can leverage all the inherent advantages of microfluidic cell culture at a scale never seen before,” MicrofluidX’s founder and CEO, Antoine Espinet, told me. “This leads to much lower bioprocessing costs, better control over the final product, and faster translation from research to commercialization.”
In particular, the company is investigating its technology’s capacity to produce immune T-cells — a common type of cell used in immunotherapies such as CAR T-cell therapies — and other cell types.
“Whilst the regulatory agencies are now warming up to cell and gene therapies, there are still growing pains, especially around manufacturing,” Pablo Lubroth, an investor with UKI2S, told me.
“It is essential to not only support companies that produce the therapies themselves, but also companies that are developing enabling technologies to ensure these therapies can be effectively commercialized and therefore have a tangible benefit to the patient.”
As well as manufacturing, microfluidics is gaining traction in diagnostics and screening. For example, another UK startup, Lightcast Discovery, was founded last year to screen cells using microfluidics and beams of light. Additionally, the Belgian nanofluidics company miDiagnostics last month raised €14M to commercialize its silicon chip diagnostics in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University in the US.
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