€1.5M Investment Fuels CTIBiotech’s Bioprinted Human Models for Vaccine Safety

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CTIBiotech is breaking new ground in the world of mRNA vaccines. The French biotech firm is bioprinting lifelike human skin models to test vaccines. This latest project, called SAFESKIN3D, taps into a €1 million investment from the company and additional backing of €500,000 from Sanofi, a vaccine maker renowned for its work on flu vaccines and pioneering efforts in immunology. By combining advanced bioprinting with cutting-edge vaccine research, SAFESKIN3D promises to transform vaccine safety testing, making it faster, safer, and more ethical.

Focusing on the promising field of mRNA vaccines, CTIBiotech seeks to impact modern medicine. SAFESKIN3D marks a leap in biotechnology by creating human skin models that predict vaccine tolerance in the lab, boosting vaccine safety and reducing the need for animal testing.

The Backstory

Professor Colin McGuckin, Co-Founder, President and Chief Innovation Officer of CTIBiotech noted, “By developing advanced 3D bioprinted skin models, we not only enhance the safety and efficacy of new vaccines but also pave the way for more ethical and sustainable research practices. This project will significantly reduce the reliance on animal testing and accelerate the development of next-generation vaccines, ultimately benefiting public health on a global scale.”

Animal testing has been a cornerstone in vaccine development since the late 18th century, starting with Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine experiments, which were initially tested on animals before being administered to humans in 1796. This practice has continued for over two centuries, dragging both ethical concerns and scientific limitations.

Currently, there are no effective lab-based methods (in vitro tests) to predict vaccine side effects without using animals. This is where SAFESKIN3D comes in, aiming to address these challenges by creating high-throughput, human-based testing platforms that can be used to test vaccines in the lab. The project promises to limit the need to use animals for testing, provide more accurate human-specific data, and support the development of safer vaccines. This will help predict side effects better, improve the vaccine development process, and ensure vaccines are safe and effective for human use.

Inside the Process

The project, which is already underway, uses detailed bioprinted skin models that mimic both subcutaneous and intramuscular injection sites. These models allow researchers to screen hundreds of vaccine formulations daily, providing rapid and reliable safety data. Considered a game-changer, this high-throughput capability can cut the time and cost of vaccine development.

To create the models, researchers use surplus human tissues from surgeries and medical procedures conducted across France that would otherwise be discarded. These samples are processed to extract the necessary cells, which are then incorporated into bioink cartridges—a mixture of human skin cells suspended in a biocompatible gel. The bioinks are used to create detailed human skin models that mimic the structures and functions of real human tissue. This process allows for creating highly realistic and functional models for testing vaccines.

Human skin models produced by 3D bioprinting. Image courtesy of CTIBiotech.

CTIBiotech is known to use Cellink bioprinters to create its tissue models, making sure the bioprinted models are realistic and functional, closely mimicking actual human skin for accurate testing. The team expects to bioprint several 3D human skin models, including the epidermis, dermis, hypodermis, and muscle layers, integrating immune cells, sensory neurons, and vascular components to create a comprehensive standard for vaccine safety testing.

Sanofi will be the “beta tester” for the new models. Its contributions will ensure the bioprinted skin models meet the highest standards and provide critical feedback to help make improvements. At the end of the research, SAFESKIN3D models promise to “de-risk” prohibitive toxicological effects before regulatory animal testing.

Once proven, the technology will enable the modeling of injection sites (subcutaneous and intramuscular) to screen hundreds of vaccine formulations for side effects. This process involves choosing the safest vaccines, refining the best formulations, and using tools to study side effects closely. If needed, they can also conduct detailed studies using cells from specific patients.

Founders Nico Forraz and Colin McGuckin at CTIBiotech headquarters in France. Image courtesy of CTIBiotech.

Strategic Location

Located in the innovative hub of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, SAFESKIN3D benefits from a dynamic ecosystem of biotech companies, research institutions, and supportive governmental policies. The region, particularly around Lyon, is already recognized as a significant player in vaccine development. Home to the Lyonbiopole cluster, the area supports over 270 members, including major pharmaceutical companies, research centers, and university hospitals.

Sanofi has invested extensively in the area, including a new state-of-the-art vaccine production site and an R&D center dedicated to developing future vaccines. This infrastructure already makes Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes a key player in the global vaccine development landscape. Added to that, the SAFESKIN3D project is anticipated to pent up employment, aiming to create at least 70 jobs by 2031 and contribute €15 million in revenue to the region’s economy.

The combination of bioprinting and advanced vaccine research has all the elements to launch a new era of vaccine testing in the lab. Although this project is still being researched, CTIBiotech’s proven expertise and innovative models paint a promising future for safer and more effective vaccine development.

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