Helping hands and hepatocytes

EMD Millipore and Promethera team up to develop liver assay

Kelsey Kaustinen
MONT-SAINT-GUIBERT, Belgium—In hopes of developing new methods of testing compounds’ toxicity, Promethera Biosciences and Billerica, Mass.-based EMD Millipore have begun a collaboration to develop a ready-to-use microfluidic perfusion liver assay, meant to perform more robust studies in preclinical toxicity and drug metabolism.
 
This work will be funded with €900,000 (approximately $1.2 million) total for both partners, with the funding to come from the Belgian Walloon region and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC).
 
“We are very pleased to initiate this collaboration with EMD Millipore and to combine our expertise to develop a ready to use liver based assay. We sincerely thank the Walloon region and the MLSC for funding this innovative project,” Eric Halioua, CEO of Promethera Biosciences, said in a news release.
 
Both companies will be bringing novel technology to this partnership. EMD Millipore’s Pearl microfluidic technology works to maintain hepatocyte functionality by mimicking the microenvironment of the liver. As such, when liver cells are cultured in the Pearl format, they recover key metabolic functions and can display phenotypic profiles of the intact organ for more than a month.
For its part, Promethera Biosciences brings to the table a novel adult human hepatic progenitor cell population that can be maintained in vitro in two- and three-dimensional cell culture conditions, which provides new models for testing in-vitro drug metabolism: Promethera H2Screen and H3Screen. These cell-based models, which are derived from healthy human livers, acquire a metabolic capacity within the range of primary hepatocytes, have long-term stability in culture and have potential for large-scale production and reproducibility across batches. Promethera H2Screen and H3Screen are non-therapeutic in-vitro products based on Promethera Biosciences’ recently discovered and patented liver progenitor cell type. The tool is designed to enable early preclinical pharmaco-toxicological evaluation of drug candidates and new chemical entities.
“The opportunity to work closely with Promethera over the course of the project speaks to the nature of our organization, enabling our partners to conduct potentially life-saving research,” Robert Yates, president and CEO of EMD Millipore, commented in a statement. “We are looking forward to building our relationship and more importantly to the outcomes this partnership has the potential to deliver. A sincere thanks to the MLSC for the opportunity to see what this collaboration can achieve and more importantly the continued support of the Massachusetts Life Sciences industry.”
 
The Belgian Walloon region and the MLSC are both partners in the International Collaborative Industry Program (ICIP), which aims to promote and motivate collaboration between life-sciences companies in Massachusetts and other countries. Last April, a call went out with four partner foreign regions of the MLSC in the ICIP program, and Promethera Biosciences and EMD Millipore were among the four collaborative projects selected by a panel of independent Belgian and American experts.
 
Toxicity issues remain one of the leading roadblocks for drug development these days, and one of the main causes of late-stage failure of compounds. Approximately 30 percent of drug candidates fail in clinical development stages as a result of toxicity issues, and currently, liver cells-based studies represent 85 percent of in-vitro toxicology assays. Current methods are hampered by challenges such as long-term stability of liver functionality to allow for chronic toxicity testing and obtaining a stable, consistent human cell source at a reasonable cost.
 

Kelsey Kaustinen

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