- Tests on heart medication and its effects are not yet reliable; the hearts of laboratory animals and humans differ too much from each other
- River BioMedics has developed a technology with which a 3D miniature heart can be created using human body cells, which allows for better testing of heart medication
- Their goal is getting better medication for cardiovascular patients worldwide
Start-up River BioMedics has the solution: a 3D heart that can be used in the preclinical phase of research. Heart medication can now be tested on a heart that consists of human heart cells (created from artificial stem cells) and pumps like the human heart.
“This innovative technique allows pharmaceutical companies to test drugs in the best and most lifelike way possible”, says Marcelo Ribeiro, founder and co-owner of River BioMedics. He did his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in his home country, Portugal, and then moved to Utrecht in 2008 to complete his master’s in Drug Innovations. He obtained his PhD in Anatomy and Embryology in Leiden. He did his postdoc in the department of Applied Stem Cell Technology at the University of Twente, with a specialisation in heart cells. He chose the UT because it is known as a highly entrepreneurial university that stimulates innovation. “I came up with the idea to use stem cells for creating a miniature heart in 2016 by combining all my acquired knowledge. I achieved this in 2018, together with Professor Robert Passier. My goal has always been to set up a company that will bring better heart medication to the world. I founded River BioMedics at the beginning of this year, together with my partner Lisanne Blauw.
The coronavirus has had little impact on the company, besides the fact that it has been very quiet at the University recently because of the measures. In fact, the miniature heart may have an even bigger chance of success in the medical world. After all, the virus also affects the functioning of the heart. Research into what exactly the virus does can be done quickly and precisely with River BioMedic’s miniature Heart, as well as research into the effects of various medications or components thereof.
However, it has not been easy for the start-up to find investors who want to go on this journey with Ribeiro and Blauw. “Our technology can save companies huge amounts of money because it can already be clear whether or not medication will work on humans before the clinical phase”, says Ribeiro. “The only challenge is reaching out to the right people in the pharmaceutical world and convincing investors in the Netherlands that our product is viable; we are still at an early stage of product development.”
A lot of money is needed to ensure that production of the 3D-heart can start. They have not yet been successful because pre-financing something that will still take seven to ten years to be ready for the market, in addition to investing in service, is not attractive. That is why the start-up has now developed a heart strip, a derivative of the more complex and therefore more expensive miniature 3D-heart. Reliable and fast tests can still be done with this since human cells are being used that pump like the human heart.
The two owners are now thinking about which path they want to take with their business. “We can choose to continue on this path and keep looking for investors, but we could also develop and test heart medication ourselves. That is the choice we now face.”
The goal remains the same, ultimately: providing better medication for the patient. “Fewer and fewer new medicines have been brought onto the market for cardiological diseases in recent decades, due to the high costs of developing new medicines. It is strange if you consider that cardiovascular diseases, including angina pectoris, CVA or myocardial infarction, cause the most fatalities, also in the Netherlands. We think it is, therefore, essential to develop new and better medication so that curing these diseases might even be possible in the future, just like with some cancers. We believe our technology can help with that.”