Brazilian bioprinting startup TissueLabs is moving its headquarters to the city of Lugano in southern Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region. The move was announced in February 2021, after company Founder and CEO Gabriel Liguori decided to introduce TissueLabs products in Europe, the second-fastest moving market for bioprinting companies.
Founded in 2019, TissueLabs rapidly became a popular name in bioprinting for Latin American researchers in academia and the private sector. Its tissue-specific bioinks and cost-effective 3D bioprinters are now present in more than 40 laboratories and implemented by over 200 scientists. Born out of the IPEN-Cietec Incubator at the University of São Paulo, the startup has raised $1.6 million in seed funding to develop a platform for creating organs and tissues in the lab. At TissueLabs, every new development is quickly transformed into a commercially available product, “allowing the scientific community access to cutting edge technology,” described Liguori.
The success of the company is attached to Liguori’s life story. Born with a congenital heart disease that forced him to spend a lot of time in hospital and undergo several surgeries, the experience led him to postgraduate studies in cardiovascular tissue engineering in his home country, the U.S., and the Netherlands. After ten years in the field, Liguori became determined to create an artificial heart for transplantation, and he believes TissueLabs is the conduit that will get him there.
During its first year, the startup focused on developing a scalable process to produce tissue-specific bioinks for 3D cell culture and bioprinting. The brand of bioinks called MatriXpec was well received by researchers in tissue engineering for drug development and personalized medicines investigations. In March 2020, while working on a novel bioprinting platform, the company shifted gears. It began focusing all its resources on a different platform, this time for the in vitro study of coronavirus’s new strain SARS-CoV-2 in the lung epithelium, which is heavily affected during the disease.
Designed for fabricating 3D epithelial barriers in vitro, MatriWell is the latest addition to TissueLabs’ portfolio of patented platforms for creating organs and tissues in the lab. MatriWell is a cell insert containing a hydrogel with the extracellular matrix proteins of the lung tissue. For months, the platform was distributed free of charge to researchers developing studies on the new coronavirus. The platform is also commercially available for scientists studying other diseases affecting epithelial tissues, not only in the lungs but also in the skin and gastrointestinal organs.
The team later released its highly expected new bioprinter called TissueStart. A cost-effective device sold to research labs for 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,600). The bioprinter provides a unique, proprietary extrusion system that combines two bioinks in several different ways, from mixed extrusion to coaxial deposition.
When describing the company, Liguori does not see it as a traditional life sciences enterprise: “TissueLabs is not a conventional company, and we do not intend to become one. We were born with the mission to produce human organs for transplantation. This very personal life project rapidly became the life project of a team of truly dedicated professionals.”
The company has very ambitious plans and works with a clear moonshot, described Liguori, who recently received the MIT Innovators Under 35 nomination for his work.
“All these people are devoted and focused on our long-term goal to create the first transplantable bioartificial heart in the world.”
Recently, Liguori realized that most labs that acquired TissueLabs products were located in Latin America, where the company was born. The geographic limitations of running the startup from Brazil became one of the leading reasons for the relocation. Liguori said that the startup expects an increase in its European market sales, so it is “imperative” for the company to settle close to customers, partners and collaborators.
Nevertheless, the reasons for the move to Switzerland are far from limited to a strategic location. “For years, Switzerland has ranked as one of the most innovative countries in the world. At TissueLabs, innovation is a central pillar for our teams, research, and products. We are constantly creating new ways to solve the most demanding challenges in the field of biofabrication, so this was the next step for us: moving to the epicenter of innovation,” explained Liguori.
The startup will soon inaugurate a new lab space at the Tecnopolo Ticino, a startup incubator governed by the AGIRE Foundation, promoter of local innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic competitiveness. Located in the Lugano municipality of Manno, the technology park provides the perfect location to foster dialogue among entrepreneurs, researchers, and investors. TissueLabs will share the space with other local life science early-stage startups like CoreQuest, Cronet, and Cuoralia. Initially, only a small group of employees will be relocating to the new work location. As the business evolves, the rest of the team will be offered the option to work in Switzerland, and Liguori expects to hire locally as well.
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