Surveying great inventors and businesses
Axial partners with great founders and inventors. We invest in early-stage life sciences companies such as Appia Bio, Seranova Bio, Delix Therapeutics, Simcha Therapeutics, among others often when they are no more than an idea. We are fanatical about helping the rare inventor who is compelled to build their own enduring business. If you or someone you know has a great idea or company in life sciences, Axial would be excited to get to know you and possibly invest in your vision and company . We are excited to be in business with you - email us at email@example.com
Who leads Emulate?
Emulate was founded in 2013 by a team from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. The company was formed from a $37M collaboration with the Wyss and DARPA in 2011 to develop 10 different Organs-on-Chips with the goal to link them together to emulate a human. Donald Ingber was the program lead and one of Emulate’s Co-Founders. Ingber is a Professor at Harvard and director at the Wyss and is a leader in the field of bioengineering. The other two co-founders are Daniel Levner (CTO) and Geraldine Hamilton (CSO). Levner was a senior staff scientist at the Wyss, and a postdoc at Harvard Medical School and trained in electrical engineering at Stanford. Hamilton was a senior staff scientist at the Wyss as well; she was also a VP at CellzDirect, which worked in biopharma safety testing and trained as a cell biologist and toxicologist in the UK. The founding CEO was James Coon was an EIR at the Wyss and was a VP at CellzDirect as well and co-Founded HepatoTech with Hamilton, which ended up merging with CellzDirect.
What does Emulate do?
Emulate develops and commercializes Organs-on-Chips (OoC), which are microphysiological systems lined with human cells that work to mimic functional aspects of human organs and tissues. OoC devices can be designed to stimulate tissue-to-tissue interfaces and other dynamic cellular interactions to a combination of mechanical forces and fluid flow. Each chip works to capture the natural forces and physiology of a microenvironment. This technology helps with testing the efficacy and safety of drugs among other products.
The company offers 5 Bio-Kits to model the kidney (focused on drug transport), brain, liver (toxicity), lung, and intestine (absorption and metabolism). Emulate’s technical advantage is more accurately modeling tissue interfaces. What’s been exciting about Emulate is their accelerating progress in product development: the lung chip took ~4 years to develop then the intestine chip took ~2 years, and successive products have taken a year to introduce now. These five OoCs are supported by Emulate’s custom hardware: the Zoë Culture and Orb Hub Modules. Zoë is an instrument that automates the flow of culture media and generates the mechanical forces for a given chip. And Orb is a device that supports Zoë with the proper combination of gas and power to define exact stretching forces on the chip. Emulate also offers various companion products and services to support this system. An important part of this platform is the software and data for features like updating protocols across a large user base and helping with study design and data analysis.
Emulate’s product suite can be used in several preclinical steps from target identification and safety studies to biomarker development, lead optimization, and mechanistic studies. An organ-on-chip’s main advantage over traditional cell lines or animal models is the precise control over chip/environmental variables. This enables a broad set of applications from neuroscience to the microbiome and drug delivery:
Neuroscience - Emulate recently introduced a brain OoC for preclinical research in central nervous system (CNS) disease like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The chip’s advantage is its ability to model the blood-brain barrier.
Microbiome - the company’s intestine chip is useful to co-culture human and bacterial cells in the same microenvironment. Drug candidates then can be screened that modify these interactions.
Drug delivery - Emulate’s kidney, liver, and brain chips are pretty powerful to determine the delivery mechanisms of something like an AAV gene therapy. The company’s ability to recapitulate tissue interfaces is a high value proposition to assess if and how a gene therapy can get into human cells.
Immunology - many animal models fail to completely mimic the human immune system. Emulate’s OoCs offer a new angle to more accurately model the complexity of immune cell interactions and recruitment in a given organ.
Emulate’s product has been installed at well over 150 sites with 10 of the top 25 biopharma companies using them. The company is helping their customers run more accurate preclinical research programs, and in the long-term, Emulate has the potential to expand to more drug modalities and organ/tissue types. Maybe on day, an organ-on-a-chip can replace a mouse model or cell line?
What makes Emulate unique?
Emulate is centered around the mantra of: “Chip to human, from data to answers.” This conveys, to me at least, their focus on commoditizing organ-on-chip testing to monopolize the entire ecosystem. By using a consumable business mode, Emulate is set up to make the testing hardware as accessible as possible (i.e. an organ-on-chip on every benchtop) and expand the OoC applications to become a standard in preclinical research.
Beyond drug discovery, the company’s products can be used in food and consumer products like makeup. This is possible because Emulate has built a platform where a lab research without any expertise can use their organ-on-chips. Due to the products’ modularity, the company can work to link multiple OoCs to one day stimulate a human being. The challenges with multi-OoCs are biological scaling, maintaining a common medium and sterility, and controlling bubble traps and fluid flows.
Why I like what Emulate is doing?
Emulate’s products allow scientists to address tough preclinical questions in new ways. When compared to animal models and cell lines, organ-on-chips have the potential to more accurately recreate human biology especially for tissue-tissue interfaces. This allows new questions to be asked during preclinical work - like understanding why and how a drug is safe and efficacious, not just if it works.
The value proposition to Emulate’s customers is that their products can more accurately capture exposure-response relationships found in humans. Exposure in mice is often too short and lab tests’ response curves are too binary. Testing in humans is the gold-standard, and animals can recapitulate organs and blood flow but not the immune system or drug exposure. Lab tests might be able to use human cells but are not complex enough to make accurate predictions. As a result, an organ-on-a-chip could model the organ complexity of a human while mimicking an immune response and similar drug exposures. These products have the potential to touch everything from discovery to preclinical to IND and finally to approval. Emulate is working on accelerating the preclinical to IND step. But there are opportunities across this entire process for Emulate to expand and other companies as well.
Emulate still has work to do to scale up manufacturing of organ-on-chips. They are still relatively expensive for most research groups; however, technology price curves are mostly demand-driven so Emulate should be able to make their products more accessible over time. With this there are new opportunities to make personalized OoCs for a given patient. There is also a need for a universal medium to enable linked OoCs; this is probably a combination of a better blood mimetic and changes in surface chemistries on each chip. Advances in iPSCs have led to the proliferation of more diverse OoCs as well as organoids, which have the potential to more accurately model microenvironments but face even tougher challenges with scaling and reproducibility. Someone could probably build an Emulate for Organoids if they wanted. Overall, the technology is still in the early days. Roughly, high-throughput plate-based OoCs are likely to be used for target identification and lead optimization. Then more custom chips would be used to test more complex tissue-tissue interfaces. And multi-organ chips would be used at the final stages of development.
The company is working on expanding beyond small molecules into biologics testing. Then likely onto more complex drugs like cell and gene therapies. Emulate is building a tools company to dominate the organ-on-chip market and using this position to expand their collaborations and applications.
You can find Emulate here.