Belgo-American partnership between Promethera Biosciences and EMD Millipore to develop pre-clinical liver pharmaco-toxicological testing assay

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The recent Belgo-American partnership between Promethera® Biosciences (Mont-Saint-Guibert, Belgium), and EMD Millipore (Billerica, MA USA) to develop an improved ready-to-use microfluidic perfusion liver assay, is BioWin’s latest ‘Success Story’. The initiative behind this strategic project will combine Promethera Biosciences’ expertise in developing innovative therapies for the treatment of liver diseases with EMD Millipore’s extensive portfolio of cell analysis instruments, cell culture and sample preparation products, advanced microfluidic cell culture, research reagents and assays as well as drug discovery services.

Through this collaboration, the team will use liver derived human stem cells to inhabit a microfluidic device that mimic the hepatic architecture with the aim of creating a product with a ‘human liver like’ phenotype. Ultimately the team hopes to implement predictive liver toxicity testing of drugs in the early stages of development for pharmaceutical companies with the intention of creating improved safety and more cost effective drug development. Keep in mind; early availability of reliable human liver-based assays is critical to the pharmaceutical industry in deciding to bring a lead compound in clinical phase development.

The two-part formula behind the development

Promethera Biosciences has developed a non-therapeutic in vitro product (Promethera® H2Screen and H3screen) that can be maintained in two- and three-dimensional cell culture conditions based on a recently discovered and patented hepatocytes progenitor cell type isolated from the healthy adult human liver. In response to key technological challenges such as limited long- term stability of hepatic functionality, and the ability to obtain a stable and consistent human cell source at acceptable cost, these healthy human liver-derived cell-based models acquire a metabolic capacity within the range of primary hepatocytes, have long-term stability in culture (allowing chronic toxicity testing) as well as a potential for large-scale production and reproducibility across batches.

The other part of the formula, EMD Millipore’s ‘Pearl’ microfluidic technology, which maintains hepatocyte functionality by imitating the liver microenvironment. When cultured in the ‘Pearl’ format, the liver cells recover key metabolic functions with the potential of displaying phenotypic profiles of the intact organ for over a month.

This novel device being developed will allow for more robust studies in pre-clinical toxicity to be performed as well as offer new models for testing in vitro drug metabolism.

A collaboration of international funding

In March, during the 2014 BIO Europe Business Convention, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) announced Promethera Biosciences and EMD Millipore as one of four collaborative projects to be selected by an independent Belgian and American panel of experts. The MLSC awarded a grant of $400K to EDM Millipore and the Walloon region €500K to Promethera Biosciences for the development of this new product that will combine the strengths of Promethera Biosciences’ H2Screen/H3Screen cells and EMD Millipore’s ‘Pearl’ microfluidic technology.

The Promethera Biosciences funding will come from the DG06 (Wallonia’s Public Research Administration Department) in the context of  the Plan Marshall 2.Vert.

Eric Halioua, Chief Executive Officer of Promethera Biosciences, expressed, “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.”

The expertise and reciprocity represented by Promethera Biosciences’ specialization in isolating, expanding and characterizing human liver progenitor cells for both cell therapy and liver cell based assays combined with EMD Millipore’s extensive cell analysis based portfolio has these two companies well positioned to develop this pre-clinical liver pharmaco-toxicological testing assay. 

From ‘Call for Project’ to BioWin ‘Success Story’

In April 2013 a call for projects was launched by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) and its four international partners (BioWin-Belgium, DSDBI-Australia, CQDM-Quebec and Alsace BioValley-France) for the International Collaborative Industry Program*(ICIP), an initiative led by the MLSC, whose aim is to promote collaboration and interaction between American and international SMEs involved in Life Sciences, as well as to promote the development of new products or processes preparing for market launch.

Almost one year after signing the international collaborative agreement with the MLSC, BioWin and the Government of Wallonia, were delighted that Promethera Biosciences and EMD Millipore were selected as one of the four collaborative projects.

These new technological and commercial synergies between Walloon companies active in the health sector and key-partners from Massachusetts prove once again the strategic importance of making partnerships between regions having major expertise in health biotechnology and medical technology”. –Jean Stéphenne, President of BioWin

Congratulations to Promethera Biosciences and EDM Millipore for receiving the MLSC grant and support from the Wallon Region to promote this Belgo-American partnership in their efforts to develop an improved ready-to-use microfluidic perfusion liver assay.

Stay tuned for more upcoming BioWin ’Success Stories’!

*Given the success of the first ever ICIP, BioWin, the Government of Wallonia (represented by the Vice-President and Minister for the Economy, Jean-Claude Marcourt) and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center have planned to continue with their partnership. Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, President and CEO of the MLSC, during a visit to Wallonia on 7 March 2014, invited Wallonia and BioWin’s health cluster to take part in a new international call for projects that was launched officially on Monday 10 March 2014 in Torino (Italy), during the BIO Europe Business Convention.



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