Helping MicrofluidX get to the Future Faster
Posted on 12/06/2020
Cell and gene therapy approaches have been advocated as new forms of treatment for decades. A growing number of these advanced therapies have now made it to market, including KYMRIAH® (Novartis), YESCARTA® (Kite Pharma) and Alofisel® (Takeda). This is good news for the patients who receive these new treatments, often when other treatments are unavailable or ineffective. There is also a real opportunity for innovative companies to build on these early successes and develop new cell and gene therapies treating more diseases as well as doing so at lower cost. The UK has a strong base to make a significant contribution to this through world-class universities, exciting start-up companies, as well as a supportive ecosystem. This includes the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) providing technical leadership driving the sector. Other parts of the “Innovate family”, including the Knowledge Transfer Network also have an important role to play.
MicrofluidX is a London-based company tackling the problems of cost, scalability and process control associated with cell bioprocessing. MicrofluidX develop a new generation of bioreactors for process development and manufacturing for cell & gene therapy. Its automated, closed platform allows biologists to easily set up and run dozens of cell culture conditions in parallel, and to scale up seamlessly up to several hundred million cells. All this is combined with extreme process control and integrated in-process analytics to maximise product homogeneity and batch-to-batch stability. MicrofluidX’s technology has the potential to transform the way cell therapies are developed and manufactured as it leverages microfluidic cell culture at a large scale. This makes their technology unique because it enables:
1. Reduced costs in manufacturing
2. More robust process development and in turn reduces batch-to-batch failure.
3. Scaling up from discovering to commercialisation.
MicrofluidX’s CEO, Antione Espinet, initially contacted KTN’s Marcel Kuiper in late 2018 via KTN’s website. Marcel has supported MicrofluidX in a number of areas since then. This includes:
— Funding: Marcel reviewed Innovate UK applications aiming to validate the technology and get it to market. Recently, MicrofluidX have been successful in obtaining a highly competitive Innovate UK Smart Grant to achieve this.
— Introductions: Marcel introduced Antoine to a number of key organisations: Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, CPI, MedCity, University College London, King’s College London, BIA, and Adaptimmune.
— Events: Antoine attended the “Viral Vectors for Vaccines and Gene Delivery” event in September 2019, an event co-organised by two EPSRC hubs led by UCL, and KTN, where Marcel introduced Antoine to someone from Pall.
— Advisor: Antoine was looking for an Advisor for MicrofluidX. Marcel proposed a few people, one of whom (Dr Jim Mills) was taken on board.
KTN spoke with Antoine Espinet, CEO and co-founder of MicrofluidX, to find out a little more about the organisation and their relationship with KTN. The following is a series of questions we asked Antoine about MicrofluidX.
What inspired you to set up MicrofluidX?
Coming out of management consultancy, I was looking to start my own venture with a large social impact. I was lucky enough to meet people working in cell & gene therapy, which I found very inspiring, so I started to look into technology that could enable affordable treatments and make the technology get faster to market.
What are the challenges and opportunities facing your company and the sectors in which you operate?
In the sector there are more than 1000 clinical trials ongoing in cell and gene therapy – some of these treatments have demonstrated great healing properties, but the big hurdle lies in the treatments becoming mainstream technology [i.e. the conversion from preclinical and clinical trial at an affordable price] due to the manufacturing processes involved. Therefore, we need manufacturing to be robust with a deeper level of control on the cells from one batch to the next. This would enable scalable manufacture at a low running cost and enable research to move towards commercialisation in a time and cost-effective manner.
What specific help did KTN give you and did KTN help you meet any collaborators?
We were put in contact with Marcel Kuiper in October 2018 and Marcel pointed us to the right partners, including the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult (CGTC) and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI). Marcel initially discussed finance routes for MicrofluidX to obtain grant funding, directing us to Innovate UK, NIHR and EEN. Marcel gave introductions to advisors, potential customers and people working in bioprocessing. Marcel additionally gave guidance and support in reviewing the grant application process.
Did you receive funding with KTN’s help and, if so, how will you use this funding?
We initially applied to the Biomedical Catalyst funding call, but our score wasn’t high enough to receive funding, so in Summer 2019 we applied to SMART owing to Marcel’s advice. We were awarded funding at the end of September 2019 and our plan is to build a prototype of the platform and build bioprocessing data internally, as well as with CGTC and CPI.
What was your experience of working with KTN?
We found KTN to be very helpful because Marcel was so responsive – we were able to call Marcel without an appointment – and feedback was incredibly detailed. KTN was a critical partner for us through the last year.
Would you recommend KTN and what would you describe as the benefits of working with KTN?
Absolutely. Responsiveness was a huge benefit, as well as the knowledge of the funding and partner landscape that led to us getting funding. The background of Marcel’s role in KTN and his knowledge helped a lot – Marcel was plugged into the network so that was very helpful. Overall, Marcel’s knowledge and network were central to receiving funding.
What’s next for MicrofluidX?
We’re working on our prototype, collating biological data and setting up the Innovate UK project – we are actually getting on with the work at hand now.