Startup hopes to drive cancer drug discovery 3D-printed tumors

The realm of medicine is witnessing a surge in 3D printing’s significance, particularly in the field of healthcare. Eight years ago, the approval of the first 3D-printed drug for seizure treatment marked a pivotal moment, inciting a rush in biotech companies to pioneer personalized therapies. The spotlight is now on Chinese healthcare enterprise Triastek, which has grabbed attention with promising clinical trial outcomes for its ulcerative colitis drug, highlighting the diverse potential of 3D printing. Amid this landscape, biotech startup Carcinotech has emerged as a key player, aiming to revolutionize cancer care through its cutting-edge technology.

Founded in Edinburgh, UK, five years ago by Ishani Malhotra, Carcinotech seeks to address challenges plaguing cancer drug development. In anticipation of 22 million cancer diagnoses by 2030, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the urgency to overcome issues like inaccuracies, high costs, and outdated techniques in drug manufacturing has never been greater, ensuring that patients receive optimal, life-saving treatments.

The startup’s groundbreaking Carcino3D technology is rooted in replicating the tumor microenvironment (TME) within a patient through 3D bioprinting. Carcinotech’s scientists meticulously analyze specific cancer types, focusing on essential cell types crucial for assessment and targeting in their 3D-printed tumors. Stephen McRae, Marketing Associate at Carcinotech, elaborated that key proteins integral to the extracellular matrix (ECM) are incorporated, ensuring an accurate TME replication tailored to the cancer type of interest.

One remarkable aspect is Carcinotech’s ability to generate over 400 printed tumors from a single biopsy, encompassing both patient blood and tissues. The bioprinting process is optimized for each cancer type, followed by comprehensive tests to validate the suitability of these cell types for drug testing.

Critical to its effectiveness, Carcinotech rigorously assesses whether the 3D-printed tumors respond accurately to standard-of-care treatments like chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or surgery—mirroring a patient’s tumor response. This validation process ensures the robustness, reliability, and consistency of the data provided to clients.

To expedite various stages of development, from cell culture to bioprinting and drug testing, automation is seamlessly integrated into the technology. Carcinotech employs robotic manufacturing, preserving all data digitally to adhere to the principles of Data Integrity ALCOA+ as stipulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Amid a landscape where traditional tumor models demand around three months for development and lack compatibility with automated systems, Carcinotech’s 3D-printed tumors offer a solution. They overcome these constraints, boasting high reproducibility—a significant advantage over conventional models.

Stephen McRae highlighted Carcinotech’s unique offering, as it pioneers the use of 3D-printed living tumors, distinguishing itself from competitors working with less representative 2D models. These 3D-printed tumors closely mimic real-life tumors within patients, providing more accurate and reliable data for drug screening and testing.

Carcinotech envisions driving precision medicine by deriving its models from patient-specific cancer cells, tailoring treatment plans to individual patients for optimal outcomes. This approach veers away from the traditional ‘one treatment fits all’ method and embraces patient-centered strategies.

However, challenges emerged on the journey. While overcoming the hurdle of replicating the tumor microenvironment was achieved through persistent experimentation, recreating patients’ immune systems within the tumor microenvironment posed a significant challenge. Through intensive research, Carcinotech successfully overcame this obstacle, advancing the capabilities of cancer research and immune-oncology-focused printed tumors.

Although the startup faces the challenge of adopting its technology within the pharmaceutical and contract research organization (CRO) sectors, recognition is growing, with its product gaining traction.

With an initial grant from Scottish Enterprise and subsequent funding rounds, including a series A funding endeavor, Carcinotech’s financial journey is supported by sales from drug testing and licensing precision medicine services.

Given that 90% of drugs fail clinical trials and traditional testing methods are costly and unpredictable, the emphasis on drug screening research is paramount. Carcinotech’s Carcino3D technology offers a potential solution, while also potentially eliminating the need for animal testing, as experimental cancer drugs’ high failure rates on animals highlight the limitations.

As Carcinotech designs printed tumors for various cancer types, including brain, lung, breast, colorectal, and ovarian cancers, it paves the way for solid tumor models. The company offers in-house drug testing and ships cryopreserved 3D-printed tumors to clients, enabling personalized medicine testing and tailored treatment plans.

Beyond oncology, the potential of 3D printing in healthcare spans prosthetics, bone and organ replicas, skin for burn victims, and dental crowns for tooth decay. Carcinotech seeks to leverage 3D printing’s potential to address oncology’s challenges, aiming to revolutionize cancer treatment with its Carcino3D technology.

In conclusion, 3D printing is revolutionizing healthcare on multiple fronts, from oncology to prosthetics, and Carcinotech’s pioneering approach has the potential to reshape cancer research, drug testing, and patient care.

3D-printed tumors


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