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Emulate raises $36M to develop organ-on-chip tech

  • Boston, Mass.-based Emulate snapped up $36 million in funding from a Series C round led by Founders Fund and including ALS Investment Fund, SciFi VC, GlassWall Syndicate Association and existing investors.
  • The money will be used to broaden the functionality of its organ-on-a-chip-based technology, dubbed the Human Emulation System. Emulate hopes to develop the platform for use across the whole of the drug discovery and development process.
  • The company will add biological capabilities to its Liver-Chip, Intestine-Chip, Lung-Chip, and Brain-Chip, and to its human-relevant models of thrombosis and immune system modulation.

Around 26 million animals are used each year in the U.S. for scientific and commercial drug testing. While in vivo studies remain vital, there are both scientific and ethical arguments to reduce the reliance on animal testing. Organ-on-a-chip technologies could provide a way to reduce the numbers of animals used in experimentation, as well as improving the biology and precision of preclinical studies.

Emulate’s Human Emulation System, which includes its organs-on-a-chip, instrumentation, and software applications, is designed to predict how people will respond to diseases, medicines, chemicals and foods. The company said it provides “greater precision and control than today’s cell culture or animal-based testing approaches” because of its use of human cells to represent human physiology.

“As therapeutic approaches become ever more precise and complex, the limitations of legacy animal models increasingly prevent accurate predictions of drug responses in humans. This crisis has simultaneously put patients at risk of unpredictable side effects while inhibiting the approval of novel life-saving therapies,” said Aaron VanDevender, chief scientist at Founders Fund, in a statement.

Emulate, a Wyss Institute startup, has signed a number of deals with big pharma in 2018.

In February, Roche formed a three-year research partnership to use their technology to reduce animal testing and improve prediction of the safety and efficacy of therapeutic antibodies and drug combinations. The partnership will also look at disease mechanisms, biomarkers and the use of patient-derived cells in the chips.

Three months later, AstraZeneca signed a strategic agreement to work with Emulate on organ-on-a-chip technology to improve the prediction of human safety and efficacy. Emulate scientists will be based in labs in AstraZeneca’s Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit.

Emulate also has a cooperative research and development agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to assess Emulate’s Liver-Chip as a test for chemical and microbiological hazards in food, dietary supplements and cosmetics.