Imagine a printer that, instead of traditional CMYK colours, uses bioinks to print human-like tissues. This may sound like science-fiction, but this is exactly what VoxCell BioInnovation is developing: Canada's first high-resolution 3D bioprinter. “We are revolutionizing tissue engineering with the goal of getting the right drugs to the market sooner, to the hands of the people that need them”, Co-Founder Dr. Karolina Valente describes.
Inspiration for Innovation
Growing up in Brazil with a mother affected by breast cancer motivated Dr. Valente to focus her PhD on breast cancer research. “Human tissue samples were difficult to access and very delicate to use”, affirms Dr. Valente. This journey led to her exploration of 3D bioprinting to ‘copy’ cancer tissues, but current technology offerings were simply incapable of creating models in high-resolution with complex vasculature. Mimicking the real intricacies of human organs is not simple, but is precisely the change VoxCell is after. Along with her studies, Dr. Valente was working on the early chemistry and engineering behind VoxCell, eventually forming a small team with colleagues and other PhD students. “It’s all about combining the right people with the right expertise” , advises Dr Valente.
How it Works
VoxCell’s technology involves the creation of their core products: a 3D bioprinter, special bioink that is compatible with their own 3D printer product and other bioprinters, as well as their proprietary software with which they design the vascularized tissue models. The 3D bioprinter prints with the 2-photon laser point called a voxel- th inspiration behind the company name, where printing can occur within polymer structures, unlike traditional bioprinters. The result? 3D vascularized tissues ready for in-vitro research. “Our main differentiator is that our artificial tissue models are vascularized with actual blood vessel structures, so they are very similar to active tissue but of course, are also very computationally demanding, which makes our in-house software that advanced”, explains Dr. Valente.
Disruption Drug Discovery
VoxCell is able to provide an artificial alternative to the industry’s reliance on human or animal tissue for research purposes. “We are accelerating the drug development process” exclaims Dr. Valente. The complex tissue models created will serve oncology with a line of human-like tissue for drug development research. Modernizing static industry processes will increase confidence in potential therapies and speed up their time to market. “We want to get to a point in which we are so complex that we can reduce the amount of testing on animal models like mice”, says Dr. Valente. This way, VoxCell’s innovations will reduce both the costs and waste coming from animal testing to create more resourceful and sustainable industry practices.
Expert Advisory from ventureLAB
From Victoria, British Columbia, Dr. Valente brought her vision to ventureLAB through the influence of advisor Pieter Dorsman. “ventureLAB has brought us amazing help”, shares Dr. Valente. The founder places value on fundraising and investor connections through Pieter Dorsman and Danielle Graham.
The VoxCell team has a tremendously international background, which the founders take very seriously. Having lived in Brazil and Portugal prior to settling in Canada, Dr. Valente places importance on gender and cultural diversity within the company, which ventureLAB supports.
“Yuri Navarro is an amazing mentor who truly understands the challenge behind coming from abroad to build a business in Canada. On the business side, financial workshops and demo days have been crucial to our success because they have helped us gather feedback and make new connections”.
In the most recent Demo Day, VoxCell had the chance to pitch to a wide range of strategically-aligned VC's and Angels, along with other medtech companies in the ecosystem. Sponsored by Sterling Industries, a medical device contract manufacturer and ventureLAB partner, this demo day connected industry experts and companies alike to forge stronger connections in the MedTech business community.
Being the first to offer complex artificial biopsy samples comes with the challenge of lacking comparable products. There is not much out there to benchmark against, but Dr. Valente uses this as a driver to stand out in the market. “You need motivation, not a degree”. She advises other entrepreneurs to learn by experience and surround themselves with a team of people and investors who believe in their vision.
Since its inception, VoxCell BioInnovation has gone from a 3D printing company, to a tissue engineering company. At the moment, oncology is the primary focus, but Dr. Valente hopes that in the future, their 3D human-like tissues will create solutions for more medical issues like neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Valente defines the company’s goal as becoming “the gold standard for drug screening technology”.
VoxCell is in the process of raising $1M USD throughout July, 2022. They hope to spread their mission across Canada to connect with more industry professionals like hospitals, clinicians, and research centres.
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