Harvard spinout Emulate scores $28M, revs up marketing for organs-on-chip tech

Emulate CSO Geraldine Hamilton

The investors behind Emulate say now's the time to move their organs-on-a-chip tech to the proverbial next level, offering a $28 million B round fashioned to fuel a marketing drive and more than double the size of its staff as it gets disruptive with preclinical R&D.

The preclinical drug testing world is ready for the plug-and-play stage of organs-on-chips, says president and CSO Geraldine Hamilton about the Harvard spinout. Emulate is ready to start handing over the instrumentation and software necessary to make their products a regular feature in industry as well as academic labs. And they're getting the added financial backing from the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, LabCorp (parent company of the big CRO Covance), NanoDimension, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, OS Fund, Atel Ventures, and new investor ALS Finding a Cure.

Hamilton says the company expects to see its workforce swell over the next year, using the new funds to grow from 40 to about 85 staffers to help drive marketing efforts. And the extra cash will also be used to expand its offerings of small, chip-based organ substitutes for lung, liver, intestine, and skin with new systems for the kidney, heart, brain and more.

Hammered out at the billionaire founder's namesake Wyss Institute, Emulate's tech will be used first to augment and then one day perhaps succeed the animal testing that has long been the gold standard for testing drugs before they are tried in human trials.

The scientific currency of that gold standard, though, has long been debased by a history of unreliability. Only a tiny fraction of what's successfully tested in animals--and frequently touted in headlines around the world--winds up as a new treatment on the market. Mice, for example, can make for poor models of human biology, often failing to transmit the complex safety and efficacy signals needed to see if researchers are starting down the right track.

Emulate's organs-on-chips could help improve the odds, or at least help winnow out future failures earlier. And with the controversial economics of drug development dominated by talk of billion dollar-plus costs for clinical stage development at the industry giants, the fledgling Emulate expects to be helped by more industry collaborations like the pioneering pact it struck with J&J.

"This really positions us to go to next stage of growth," says Hamilton, who will now start looking to the rank-and-file players in preclinical work to help establish the chip technology. The chips are especially helpful in looking at a drug's mechanisms of action, she adds.

But plenty of hurdles remain for the technology adoption to take place. The FDA still relies on animal testing to establish a safety baseline on drugs. And in some fields, like immuno-oncology and metabolics, animal testing is particularly weak--fields in which Emulate can look to make early inroads. Even in cases where primates are used as the industry standard, as in infectious diseases, the chips can provide a much less expensive, earlier inspection of a drug's potential.

Hamilton's not committing to any particular timeline for profitability. But she and her investors believe the time is ripe to give the tech--and their dream--a shot at it.

- here's the release