We turn our gaze to Bologna, Italy, this week. Here we find the biotech Cellply and its rapid cancer treatment screening kit.

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Mission: “Will this cancer drug work on my patient?” is a complex question for many clinicians. Patients vary widely in responses to treatments, and it is difficult to know which will work for each person. Founded in 2013, Cellply seeks to address this difficulty with its take on drug response analysis in the patient’s cultured cancer cells, a common drug-screening procedure that takes several days.

Cellply’s Openwell Platform system hopes to reduce the time taken to get results. Here, the investigator puts the patient’s cells into microwells, with each well containing a few thousand cells. The chip then automatically delivers a variety of drug treatments to different wells using microfluidics, and a microscope images the effect of each drug on the patient’s tumor and healthy cells. The device can carry out multiple drug screens in parallel and have results in just 24 hours.  

Cellply is funding the development of the device with a Horizon 2020 grant for €2.3M awarded earlier this year. They will use this money to validate the platform in groups of patients in the next few years and get the tech to market.

What we think: Taking just 24 hours instead of several days to complete drug response analyses could help to tackle the complex problem of how to personalize cancer treatments to each case quickly. In addition, investigators could also use Cellply’s test to screen and select patients for clinical trials of new compounds.

Another drawback of conventional drug response analysis in cultured cells is that it may not reflect the real tumor microenvironment very well. A recent study in 15 patients with acute myeloid leukemia reported high accuracy by screening the cells immediately after sampling, before the cell behavior starts to change. Notwithstanding, there will always be a clear distinction between drug responses in a microwell compared with inside a patient.

Other companies are exploring the potential of the lab-on-a-chip concept for advancing healthcare. Back in May of this year, the UK’s CN Bio Innovations released an organ-on-a-chip device that lets researchers rapidly trial drug treatments on different tissues. The Dutch biotech MIMETAS raised €17M a month prior to develop a similar system. Additionally, the French biotech MilliDrop recently received a €1.9M grant to develop cell culture technology diagnosing bacterial blood infections.


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