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Bionas Hopes Placement of Cell-Physiology Tool At Solvay Will Broaden Market for Nascent Platform

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German biotech Bionas this week said it has sold one of its Bionas 2500 cell physiology-monitoring tools to Solvay Pharmaceuticals Research Laboratories, which will use it to validate targets in its cardiac and metabolic drug-discovery programs.
 
The sale helps validate the relatively young instrument’s ability to identify and characterize cell-based targets at a time when Bionas is attempting to expand the list of its potential applications and markets.
 
Bionas launched the Bionas 2500 in August to help researchers profile cellular metabolic activity in vitro. The platform consists of a sensor chip that integrates electronics, microfluidics, and semiconductor technology; a detection instrument; and analysis software.
 
Cells are grown on one of six channels on the chip, and the instrument monitors the metabolic activity of the cells based on changes in acidification, oxygen consumption, adhesion, and confluence in the cellular and extracellular environment. Each channel can accommodate and separately analyze different cell cultures or live tissue samples.
 
Michael Schulze, Bionas’ head of sales and marketing, this week told CBA News that the main applications for the 2500 are drug profiling, lead optimization, pharmacokinetics, and toxicology. The company is also marketing the tool for chemosensitivity testing and cell culture monitoring and optimization.
 
Through its deal with Solvay, Bionas will now add target validation to the list of potential applications. Solvay has thus far used the 2500 to better characterize the mechanism of action of angiotensin 1-7, a member of the angiotensin peptide family that has recently garnered interest because of its anti-hypertensive and anti-proliferative properties, and because of its interactions with angiotensin II, a major player in metabolic and cardiovascular disease.
 
“It is known that angiotensin 1-8 acts via two receptors,” Eric Ronken, principal scientist at Solvay, said in a statement. “The AT1 receptor mediates vasoconstriction upon stimulation, whereas the AT2 receptor is implicated in hypotensive effects. However, the mechanism through which angiotensin 1-7 induces its powerful hypotensive effects were unclear.”
 
Solvay used the Bionas to monitor changes in the physiology of live endothelial cells over time in response to challenges with angiotensin 1-7, further delineating the peptide’s mechanism of action. “The Bionas system allows us to extend and optimize target validation studies by bringing the targets back into their physiological context,” Ronken said.
 
The validation by Solvay comes approximately two months after Bionas announced it had struck a deal with German drug-discovery firm Primacyt to jointly develop a cell-based assay using human liver cells to predict hepatotoxic effects of drugs. As part of this deal, Primacyt is supplying human hepatocytes that will be cultivated on Bionas’ chips using chemically defined media from Primacyt.
 
“We also think this can be an important technology for monitoring the effectiveness of anti-cancer agents,” Bionas’ Schulze said. “You can put patients’ biopsies or tissue slides right on the chip and monitor the metabolic changes as you’re applying anti-cancer drugs.”
 
Continental Drift
 
Bionas’ biggest challenge may be distinguishing its technology from a plethora of other label-free approaches for monitoring cellular physiology in drug discovery, especially in North America, where Bionas eventually hopes to compete.
 
According to Schulze, though the market for these types of instruments is not that large yet in Europe, several companies, both nascent and well-established, are marketing similar instruments in North America.
 
Perhaps the most strikingly similar competitor is the XF 24 Extracellular Flux Analyzer from North Billerica, Mass.-based Seahorse Bioscience. Although the means may be different, the XF 24 also kinetically measures acidification and oxygen consumption in live cells.
 
In addition, North American companies such as Acea Biosciences, Applied Biophysics, and MDS Sciex are marketing instruments that use electrical impedance techniques to monitor cellular physiology.
 

“Market studies have shown us that for these areas of drug discovery, people don’t necessarily need the throughput.”

And in Europe, nascent Finnish biotech ChipMan and Swedish start-up SymCel both sell instruments that monitor cellular physiology for similar applications, albeit using different methods.
 
Some of these instruments have lower throughput similar to that of the 2500, while others are designed for well-plate-based screening applications. Schulze said that Bionas has a slightly higher-throughput version of its instrument in the works, but that it isn’t a priority and that the company doesn’t have a set timeline for its commercialization.
 
“Market studies have shown us that for these areas of drug discovery, people don’t necessarily need the throughput,” he said. “This would not be so easy for us to do in a high-throughput screening environment, as well, because of the specialized microfluidics system of our instrument.”
 
Bionas has yet to test North American waters, but according to Schulze, the company has landed a few other European customers, including Siemens in Germany, and an unnamed Swiss university. Additionally, one of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centers in Ispra, Italy, is testing the platform for possible use in an undisclosed research project related to cellular toxicity.
 
The company hopes to begin its North American roadshow next year and is eyeing appropriate conferences to attend, Schulze said. Furthermore, the company is looking to hire a sales and marketing manager in the Boston area. Schulze himself brings some experience to the table in this area, having joined Bionas in February from Caliper Life Sciences in Hopkinton, Mass.
 
Bionas is currently relying on instrument sales and an undisclosed amount of VC funding from German financiers Micronas Holding and Genius Venture Capital to sustain itself, Schulze said. The 2500 analyzing system lists for around €90,000 ($115,000), although the pricing may differ overseas, he added.

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