Cell Culture Startup to Tackle Heart Disease with Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Toppan

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Kyoto University spinout Myoridge was founded in 2016 as a bioventure, piggybacking on patented technology developed at the university’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS). Since then, the company cultivates cardiomyocytes from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and provides them to pharmaceutical companies and university laboratories.

Myoridge has received plenty of attention from fellow Japanese companies and recently announced a ¥600 million ($4.6 million) financing, capital, and business alliances with Mitsubishi Chemical, Sumitomo Chemical, and 3D cell culture developer Toppan. Through the collaborations, the startup will advance the development of its products and services with each company and continually update and improve its biotechnology infrastructure and cell culture R&D to support its growth.

Aiming to contribute to the development of new drugs, Myoridge induces pluripotent cells (often skin or blood cells taken from an individual and reprogrammed in a lab to become embryonic stem cells) into differentiated cells, including myocardial cells, via suspension culture and by using low-molecular-weight compounds instead of expensive proteins. This differentiation induction method is licensed from Kyoto University and is helping the startup create lower-cost drug discovery tools.

Considering that many drugs are known to cause or exacerbate heart failure as a side effect, causing direct myocardial toxicity, they need to be evaluated for side effects. Except, the cost and time to do it are high. Unfortunately, this has become one of the major development challenges for pharmaceuticals.

Instead, Myoridge says its iPS cell-derived cardiomyocytes have low manufacturing costs, excellent uniformity, and long-term storage stability. The company uses a culture medium that combines multiple small molecule compounds without using expensive proteins and serum required for general cell culture to keep manufacturing costs low. This allows Myoridge to cultivate at about half the cost of other companies.

In addition to selling iPS cell-derived cardiomyocytes via Kyoto University’s technology, Myoridge offers comprehensive development support covering every process related to cell culture, including base materials, operation methods, and equipment. Furthermore, Myoridge has its database of low-molecular compounds and technology for searching the culture media components and can deliver bespoke services thanks to its low-cost culture media development and manufacturing process.

Culture media are essential for cell culture, says Myoridge. However, troubleshooting in a short timeframe is considered challenging without specialist knowledge and experience due to the complex combinations of diverse components that produce effects. In addition, the development of products and services presents several challenges. For example, a common issue in such fields as regenerative medicine, antibody drugs, cell therapy, and even cultured foods is the difficulty of mass culture at low cost while maintaining a high level of quality.

Logos for Toppan and Myoridge. Toppan and Myoridge generate new alliance. Image courtesy of Toppan.

Through the new tie-up between Toppan and Myoridge, the duo will accelerate the development of Toppan’s 3D cell culture technology and generate new related products and services in cell culture. In addition, the two companies will target a stable supply of culture media, the development of culture media that comply with relevant regulations, and reduce the cost of culture media at an increased scale. Going forward, Toppan and Myoridge will drive technical collaboration and joint development, aiming to create new products and services in the field and contribute to a range of industries and their technologies.

A leading commercial printing business, Toppan has grown beyond its traditional offerings. For example, its Technical Research Institute is currently conducting R&D in healthcare and life sciences. While in drug discovery, Toppan has established a joint laboratory with the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research to support the development of anticancer drugs.

It is also advancing clinical research alternatives instead of mice for drug testing and also proactively collaborates with academic institutions and other businesses, having established the Joint Research Laboratory (TOPPAN) for Advanced Cell Regulatory Chemistry at the Osaka University Graduate School of Engineering, where it conducts fundamental research on 3D cell culture in collaboration with Associate Professor Michiya Matsusaki, who’s work bioprinting artificial steak-like meat with Kyoto biotechnology research corporation Shimadzu was recently featured in 3DPrint.com.

Osaka University researchers created cultured steak with bioprinting. Osaka University researchers created cultured steak with bioprinting. Osaka Univesity/Nature Communications

A triple alliance

Through the new collaboration with Myoridge, Mitsubishi Chemical (one of the core companies in the Mitsubishi portfolio) will further strengthen the ability to tackle cell culture challenges and develop plant-based growth factors and media for cell culture with stable functions and high quality needed in clinical settings. The deal is part of Mitsubishi’s newly announced “Forging the future” policy, which focuses on healthcare and life science as strategic markets. The Japanese chemical giant aims to offer novel products in these markets and make the regenerative medicine approach safer for patients with difficult-to-treat diseases.

Mitsubishi Chemical has been working on peripheral materials used in cell cultures for regenerative medicine, drug discovery, biopharmaceuticals, and cultured food. One of the targets is to overcome the challenges of using conventional cell culture media based on fetal bovine serum for cell culture. So far, Mitsubishi has been conducting research using plant-based growth factors to reduce costs and avoid ethical issues. But the collaboration with Myoridge could lead to significant advances in cell-based developments.

Similarly, through the new partnership, Sumitomo Chemical hopes to accelerate its efforts to promote the use of regenerative medicine and cell therapy. In addition, by bringing together the technological resources of both companies, they want to improve the quality and reduce production costs of cell products, such as iPS cells.

A century-old company, Sumitomo Chemical is a Japanese powerhouse, even listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Sumitomo Chemical sees regenerative medicine and cell therapy industries as promising areas where it can leverage the fundamental cell culture-related technologies cultivated through research and development of pharmaceuticals and safety testing for agricultural chemicals.

Through its joint venture company S-RACMO, Sumitomo has dipped its feet in regenerative medicine and cell therapy. The recently established business began operations at its manufacturing facility in February 2022 and, through this new deal with Myoridge, is stepping up efforts to expand.

This new alliance is great news for Myoridge as it makes its way into the life sciences field. Although we still don’t know much about their licensed 3D cell culture technology, we expect the new collaborations will lead to interesting discoveries in the area and improve healthcare for society.

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