After announcing a Series B round last January, Sydney-headquartered biotech startup Inventia received an additional AU$4.4 million ($3.2 million) from Australian pension fund giant HESTA. This latest investment brings Inventia’s total funding to over AU$50 million ($36 million), making it the country’s best-funded bioprinting startup.
According to a statement by co-founder and CEO Julio Ribeiro, the company will use the money to drive the commercialization of its award-winning Rastrum 3D bioprinter and an ongoing expansion into the U.S. market. Furthermore, Ribeiro said this investment could encourage other super funds to engage with Australia’s growing and thriving startup scene.
The country is home to some very innovative startups in the 3D printing universe, like healthcare newcomer 3D One Australia, a radiation oncology materials and applicators developer; Titomic, a firm that uses cold spray to 3D print, or Melbourne-based metal AM company SPEE3D. However, even though the country has several startups working at the core of the modern private space industry and leading the way with large-scale manufacturing for the defense sector, there are very few startups in the bioprinting realm.
Most of Australia’s advances in bioprinting technologies have come from researchers in academia, institutes, and university hospitals. Most notably, from the University of New South Wales, the University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Queensland University of Technology, and primarily Australia’s University of Wollongong, led by world-renowned bioprinting expert Gordon Wallace. So, Inventia has the upper hand when it comes to bioprinting startups at a national level. Unfortunately, other promising businesses like Melbourne-based Sonic Regen or MyoFab have ceased to operate in the last couple of years.
The pink bioprinter
When it comes to designing bioprinters for cancer research, Inventia says it knows how to do it well. Its flagship Rastrum system is the result of years of research and is built around digital bioprinting technology for fast, scalable, and reproducible printing of 3D cell constructs. When Ribeiro, along with co-founders Aidan O’Mahoney, Cameron Ferris, and Philippe Perzi, launched the company in 2013, they expected their creation to remove the need for time-consuming manual labor of medical lab workers. Instead, the resulting machine provides a faster way to recreate tumor models.
Thanks to a combination of speed and precision, Rastrum can produce cell models in a matter of hours that can’t otherwise be created. More importantly, Ribeiro told 3DPrint.com during a 2020 interview that the device “is gentle and uses less cells than other 3D cell model approaches, which is beneficial when handling precious patient derived cells or sensitive neural cells.”
Up until now, the pink printer has won one of Australia’s major design awards, the prestigious 2019 Good Design Award of the Year, and has been used in a wide range of research areas by Inventia customers and collaborators, particularly in immuno-oncology cancer research on solid tumors looking at the interaction of the immune cells with cancer cells, as well as for drug screening to study the interaction between drugs and cells.
This latest investment from HESTA is part of a successful series B fundraise led by Blackbird Ventures with a significant reinvestment from Skip Capital, which raised AU$35 million ($25.2 million). Moreover, it marks the first direct investment made by a super fund and is expected to drive economic jobs and growth. Actually, funding from Inventia’s previous rounds has already helped the company grow its team from 36 employees to more than 50. But the ultimate business plan is to increase its workforce to 150 by the end of 2024 and strengthen its presence in the U.S., where the biomedical research and drug discovery markets are currently estimated to be worth more than $40 billion. With new funding coming in, this could all be possible sooner than expected.
Commenting on the deal, HESTA Chief Investment Officer Sonya Sawtell-Rickson said the superannuation fund is “excited to invest in Inventia as part of our broader focus on identifying investment opportunities in health technology and innovation. Through this partnership with Inventia, our members are invested in a company developing breakthrough bioprinting technology, enabling life-changing biomedical research and therapies. Investments like this support innovative startups at an early stage of their growth, which can deliver strong returns for members while having a positive impact on the world they will retire into.”
Australian pension funds, like HESTA, have an excellent opportunity to invest in local businesses, helping the economy thrive. According to the latest Intergenerational Report, Australia’s superannuation system is expected to be worth $34 trillion by 2061, making it the fourth-largest pension system in the world with assets that consistently deliver strong performance. So there is an incredible capacity to leverage opportunities that local funds would otherwise not be able to tap into.
Through the Inventia-HESTA partnership, not only will Inventia be able to scale its team, provide more bioprinting products and expand its global reach, but it will also leave the door open to other super funds that want to engage with them and Australia’s healthcare startups in general.
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