Unique 3D heart model expedites the development of medication
Ninety percent of all newly developed medication for cardiovascular disease never makes it past the clinical trial stage. “The existing 2D models and animal tests insufficiently imitate the functions of the human heart,” CEO Marcelo Ribeiro of the UT spinoff explains. “In 2016, we developed a technology that allows us to use human cells to create a 3D miniature heart that can actually pump. To realize this, we combined knowledge of heart stem cells with expertise such as organ-on-chip technology. With this 3D heart, we can reliably mimic the functions of the human heart.”
Looking for investors
Marcelo Ribeiro developed the 3D heart together with professor Robert Passier in the AST (Applied Stem Cell Technologies) group of the University of Twente. In 2018, they patented their promising technology with the help of Roy Kolkman of Novel-T. “We began looking for investors and tried to get pharmaceutical companies interested. We quickly realized that the miniature heart is still too academical. Our technology is promising, but it will be another seven to ten years before pharmacists can actually use the 3D heart themselves. Many investors are not willing to wait that long. ‘Come back when it’s done,’ they told us.”
Ready for market in two to three years
River BioMedics then used the funding it received from the Dutch Research Council’s Take-off program to explore its market opportunities. “We decided to start with a derivative product that can be made ready for market in less time. It can be used to test the components of medication. The current solutions for this application are all quite large and therefore costly. Our invention, the heart strip, is much smaller and cheaper,” Marcelo explains. With the indirect government funding from the Dutch Research Council, they are currently working on the validation of this heart strip.
In early 2020, Marcelo founded the company River BioMedics together with Robert Passier and Lisanne Blauw. The young company is supported by Novel-T business developer Semme Moolenaar. “Semme looks at our developments objectively, streamlines our thoughts and connects us to the right people. It is wonderful to have that kind of support at this stage.” How does Marcelo view the future? “The heart strip is only the beginning. My ultimate ambition is to develop components for medication ourselves.”
“The impact of this new technology is significant,” says business developer Semme Moolenaar. “In drug development, many products never make it to the finish line because they have side effects. Those only come to light after tens of millions of euros have already been invested. The technology developed by River BioMedics makes it possible to screen medication for cardiovascular disease very quickly and filter out the unsuitable products earlier in the process. Pharmacists can then focus their efforts on the drugs that have few side effects. As a result, heart medication is ready for market sooner and the development costs go down. We help River BioMedics make their business plan investable, so they can attract private investors. The company is ready to enter that phase. We are happy to utilize our knowledge and our network for this.”