Inventia to Bioprint Brain Cell Models with Merck Subsidiary for Drug Discovery


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Australian bioprinting startup Inventia Life Science and the multinational MSD Pharmaceuticals Private Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Merck Sharp and Dohme known as Merck in the U.S. and Canada, will develop advanced 3D cell models that closely mimic the brain for research and drug discovery. According to the companies, the partnership could expedite the preclinical screening of neurodegenerative disease therapeutic candidates.

Emerging new drug developments are key against neurodegenerative disorders. But, even after decades of research, there is still a need for effective therapeutic candidates that can tackle currently untreatable conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, which are among the most common and now affect over 50 million people worldwide. New targets to treat these diseases could benefit from bioprinting technologies that could provide novel possibilities for neural tissue regeneration.

Neural cell models

Using the brand’s flagship and highly recognizable hot pink Rastrum system, the duo will collaborate to develop new capabilities that will be used to create novel 3D in vitro models. This massive milestone is expected to make a significant impact in the drug discovery field, particularly because MSD will become the first pharmaceutical company in Europe to use Rastrum in its drug discovery programs and will empower its scientists to have a greater impact in the healthcare industry through the creation of more advanced treatments.

Inventia's bioprinting platform Rastrum. Inventia’s bioprinting platform Rastrum. Image courtesy of Inventia.

Inventia’s Co-founder and CEO, Julio Ribeiro, said the company is committed to working with MSD to establish better in vitro models for neurodegenerative diseases and new approaches to drug discovery while creating more translatable models which bridge the gap between in vitro and in vivo preclinical studies.

A molecular biology expert, Ribeiro, pointed out that since Inventia created Rastrum, the main goal has been to speed up medical research and help improve human health.

Highlighting his passion for medical science, Ribeiro also said: “Together, we will be creating 3D in-vitro models of the brain to aid in the discovery of therapeutic candidates, using Rastrum. Inventia’s 3D cell culture platform can produce these models at a scale and complexity never achieved before.”

Ribeiro suggested that MSD and Inventia share a similar purpose and vision and that both companies are committed to curing some of the world’s most devastating neurological diseases, which, aside from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson include spinal muscular atrophy, Friedreich ataxia, and Huntington’s disease.

Promising outcomes

During the study’s initial focus, the Rastrum platform will enable the generation of highly reproducible cell models that closely mimic the human brain. Ultimately, the collaboration aims to accelerate the drug discovery process by evaluating therapeutic candidates on 3D in vitro models of various neurological disorders, including the aforementioned ones.

Excited to be part of this new alliance, MSD Executive Director of Biology and Head of the U.K. Neuroscience division, Jill Richardson, indicated: “This collaboration with Inventia leverages MSD’s deep expertise in neuroscience and drug discovery with Inventia’s novel 3D bioprinting platform to develop more relevant and translational models of the brain to enhance preclinical screening for neurodegenerative disease candidates.”

According to Inventia Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Cameron Ferris, the startup will work alongside MSD scientists, including Nicola Corbett, who serves as the biology lead for early drug target, and Chloe Whitehouse, a postdoctoral fellow.

Ferris said that “these moments are, by far, the most rewarding in the journey of developing new technology” and is thrilled to see Inventia expand the impact of Rastrum in medical research and drug discovery.

Although this is quite the milestone for Australia’s leading bioprinting company, Jeremy Dobrowolski, Inventia’s senior go-to-market strategy and operations manager, recalled that the company’s first interaction with the team at MSD was over two years ago and has since led to this diverse project supporting cutting edge research utilizing next-generation in-vitro cell models.

Inventia founders with Rastrum bioprinter. From left to right: Cameron Ferris, Bob Groneman, Aidan O'Mahony and Julio Ribeiro. Inventia executive team with the RASTRUM bioprinter. From left to right: Cameron Ferris, Bob Groneman, Aidan O’Mahony and Julio Ribeiro. Image courtesy of Inventia.

Since launching in 2013, Inventia has grown its team to support a broad list of customers and plans to expand its workforce to 150 employees by the end of 2024. The brand’s forte is its Rastrum system which results from years of research and is built around digital bioprinting technology for fast, scalable, and reproducible printing of 3D cell constructs.

One of the biggest benefits that have come out of Inventia is allowing the pharmaceutical industry to test new drugs in a 3D cellular environment, reducing the risk of drugs failing once they enter human clinical trials. This way, pharmaceutical companies – like MSD – can save hundreds of millions of dollars on the cost of bringing a successful drug to market (one of the industry’s biggest challenges).

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