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Biotech start-up Nuclera has raised $42.5 million to launch a new desktop 3D bioprinter with the potential to dramatically expand the accessibility of protein models needed for drug discovery.
Known as “eProtein,” this system is designed to accelerate the speed at which scientists can create the samples needed to study protein-protein interactions (PPIs), essential tests for better understanding and treating life-threatening diseases.
By cutting these models’ lead times from weeks or months to just 24 hours, the machine’s creators say it could not only help speed up drug discovery, but also make it easier and more ergonomic to perform. To help realize this ambition, Nuclera’s new funding should therefore be used both to accelerate its R&D in bioprinting and to bring the technology to market for the first time.
“The key to making drug discovery accessible is making proteins accessible,” said Michael Chen, co-founder of Nuclera. “So we want our customers to be able to have these bioprinters right on the bench, to be able to manufacture proteins and ultimately characterize the proteins and discover drugs against those proteins on a single platform.”
“The new funding and new partners we are announcing today are a strong vote of confidence in our mission to increase the accessibility of drug discovery.”
Nuclera’s “digital microfluidic” technology
Founded in 2013, by three scientists studying together for their PhDs at the University of Cambridge, Nuclera is a biotechnology company whose mission is to improve access to scientific experimentation. This philosophy was developed by the company’s co-founders personally, who say that “inaccessibility was the main bottleneck in biology” during their studies, so they started to imagine new ways to do it. remedy.
What the scientists came up with was an approach they call “eDrop digital microfluidics” technology. Essentially, this lab-on-a-chip approach leverages TFT electronics used to create consumer displays, to screen applied DNA droplets for protein expression, before transforming those signals into 3D-printed proteins purified by nanoliter scale.
In doing so, the technology effectively democratizes the process of analyzing cells from mammals, insects, plants, and bacteria, which currently requires a significant amount of funding and laboratory equipment. According to Chen, Nuclera’s eDrop approach therefore has the potential to solve the “fundamental productivity problems of today” in biotechnology, as well as the clinical challenges of tomorrow.
“Immunotherapy is a type of treatment used to treat cancers and other human diseases,” Chen explains. “Immunotherapy is just a protein that is injected into their body. What if we could use it to make medicine for people in a distributed way, not necessarily in a central manufacturing plant, but in hospitals, clinics, and even at home? »
Commercialization of 3D protein bioprinting
Backed by investors old and new, including M&G, Amadeus Capital Partners, E Ink, RT Partners, Future Planet Capital, GK Goh and the British Business Bank Future Fund, Nuclera’s Series B funding round has provided it with the necessary funding to seriously accelerate the development and application of its eProtein bioprinter.
Initially, the company intends to target drug research and discovery customers with its new machine, as it expects to be able to meet their protein production and screening needs, before integrate its technology into a more ambitious system with broader capabilities.
In fact, using its recently raised capital, Nuclera has presented plans to build a “global proteomics platform”. While the company has yet to reveal the exact form this machine will take, it says the system will “unify protein expression and characterization” in a way that “increases scientific reproducibility, accelerates the discovery of drugs and contributes to the ever-expanding bio-economy”. .”
“Nuclera brings rapid prototyping – a concept that has not existed until now – to biotechnology, and by accelerating research and opening up entirely new avenues of innovation, it will have a significant impact on many markets”, adds Andrea Traversone, Managing Partner at Amadeus Capital Partners. “Nuclera’s eProtein platform brings together the highly fragmented workflow that currently exists in proteomics.
“We have been very impressed with the quality of the team Michael and his co-founders have assembled and the unique technology they are developing.”
The investment boom in 3D bioprinting
Despite the fact that 3D bioprinting remains at a relatively early stage of development and many such technologies have not yet been commercialized, a huge amount of capital has been invested in their development over the past year. .
Towards the end of 2021, 3D Systems doubled its commitment to the development of 3D bioprinted organs, with the acquisition of Volumetric Biotechnologies. Worth up to $400 million, the deal could allow the company to expand the application of its “Print to Perfusion” process and shift from focusing lung scaffolds to bio-printing two other organs.
Shortly thereafter, Inventia Life Science raised $25 million to help accelerate the commercialization of its proprietary RASTRUM 3D bioprinter. At the time, Inventia said its cell culture technology had the potential to carve out a niche in the biomedical research and drug discovery market, which it estimated at more than $40 billion.
Elsewhere, regenerative medicine start-up Healshape has also raised significant capital to fund R&D of its 3D bioprinted breast implants. Based on living cells from patients, the company’s tissue grafts are designed to help treat women who have had a mastectomy after breast cancer and would be at significantly reduced risk of rejection.
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Featured image shows an engineer using a Nuclera system. Photo via Nuclera.