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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

U Buffalo start-up seeks to make preclinical trials less expensive for drug developers


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

A University at Buffalo (UB) start-up has developed a new biotechnology tool that could cut the time and money needed for preclinical drug trials in half.

Drugs brought to market usually cost about $500 million each to traverse the preclinical trial phase. Launched by UB researchers Glenna Bett and Randall Rasmusson, the start-up Cytocybernetics could reduce that cost by over $300 million.

For a long time, researchers studying a compound’s effect on heart cells relied on limited molecular components or animal heart tissue, which resembles human heart tissue but is different enough that potentially life-threatening problems may not be caught until clinical trials.

Now researchers can use induced pluripotent cells, a relatively new type of stem cell often made from adult skin cells that are rebuilt as heart cells. Though effective, these cells lack a crucial electrical current, known simply as “I,” which promotes stability in heart muscle. Without it, the cells can randomly start beating, which can lead to false results during early-stage safety testing and, thereby, a series of lengthy and expensive setbacks.

Cytocybernetics and its technology Cybercyte solves the problem by producing a synthetic I with electronics and computers connected to cells.

“It’s really Star Trek technology,” says Bett, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “The electronics essentially become part of the cell and its function. By interacting with the cell during each beat, we can extract much more detailed and reliable information.”

The start-up recently received a $241,933 Small Business Technology Transfer award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a $50,000 award from the State University of New York (SUNY) Technology Accelerator Fund. Brett and Rasmusson aim to use the funds to test Cybercyte against current methods to prove its effectiveness to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

UB’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach has assisted Cytocybernetics throughout its launch. The company has also been accepted into START-UP NY, an economic development initiative led by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that assists universities with promising tech companies.

Source: University at Buffalo News Center

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