AstraZeneca teams up with Novoheart for 'heart-in-a-jar'

CG image of AstraZeneca's HQ
AstraZeneca HQ (AstraZeneca)

We know about organs-on-a-chip; now, Big Pharma AstraZeneca is working with Canadian stem cell biotech Novoheart to develop a first-of-its-kind heart-in-a-jar model that also taps into stem cell tech.

No, it’s not a curio out of a 1950s sci-fi movie, but a model designed to better understand heart failure: Specifically, the two are coming together in an effort to develop what they say will be the world’s first human-specific, in vitro, functional model of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).

This is a common condition, especially among the elderly and in women, and it's poorly understood.

“Therefore, drug developers lack an effective tool for preclinical testing of drug candidates for efficacy, and as a result, clinical outcomes for HFpEF have not improved over the last decades, with no effective therapies available,” Novoheart said in a statement.

So, to combat this, AZ will help create a new in vitro model using Novoheart’s 3D human ventricular cardiac organoid chamber (hvCOC) tech that reproduces key phenotypic characteristics of HFpEF.

Also known as a “human heart-in-a-jar,” this model, unlike animal models, uses engineered hvCOCs that can be made with specific cellular and matrix compositions as well as patient-specific human induced pluripotent stem cells that allow control over their physical and mechanical properties to better mimic those observed in HFpEF patient hearts.

“Together with Novoheart’s proprietary hardware and software, this aims to provide a unique assay for understanding the mechanisms of HFpEF, identification of new therapeutic targets, and assessment of novel therapeutics for treating HFpEF patients,” the company said.

Under the deal, financials of which were not disclosed, Novoheart will exclusively own the IP to the newly developed model.

Regina Fritsche Danielson, senior vice president and head of research and early development for cardiovascular, renal and metabolism biopharmaceuticals at AstraZeneca, said: “There are significant unmet treatment needs in patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction. By combining Novoheart’s proprietary hvCOC model with our expertise in heart failure, we aim to create the first in vitro model reproducing phenotypic characteristics of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction. This could bridge the gap between in vivo animal models and clinical trials to help accelerate the drug discovery process by providing human-specific preclinical data.”