BRUNSWICK, Maine — The side effects of any new pharmaceutical drug can often be scarier than what they're meant to treat; but how can drug companies do better testing?
They can start with a company called InSphero. Armand Wolf, the Chief Scientific Officer for the company, spent years working in drug development in the pharmaceutical field.
"Most of the drugs, when they're just reaching clinical phase, 90% of them are failing," says Wolf. Those drugs are failing - on average - 10 years into testing. "It will cost about $1-2 Billion, so this is a huge waste of money."
Wolf and Frank Junker, the Chief Business Officer are based at the company's headquarters in Switzerland, but 8 of their 60 employees work from a facility in Brunswick in a space called Tech Place. Tech Place is on the base of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
"Originally we started an office in Cambridge because it is a biotech-pharma hub and we wanted to be close to our customers, but for a small company like us it's very expensive to have lab space there," says Junker. "So we started looking around and very quickly found Tech Place here and it checks many boxes."
In the Brunswick labs, scientists are allowing cells to grow and assemble in a more natural state - in a sphere - to form the smallest functional unit of human tissue. Traditionally, drug companies or researchers test their products' effects on cells in a dish, keeping things two dimensional. Wolf says cells react differently in that form, which doesn't give the most accurate reading from tests.
"When you get better results, when you get more biologically relevant results, that always saves you time because you know much earlier whether your drug works or doesn't work. If it doesn't work you want to fail early," says Junker. Failing early can save money; time on testing; and lives.
"It's not dependent on animal killing," says Wolf. "It's not dependent on the treatment of patients without knowing what the risk is, so this is a way to find out the basic characteristics of a compound under investigative conditions."
Through cell manipulation and growth within this lab, InSphero can also mimic the basic functions of a liver for drug safety testing including the mechanisms by which many drugs are processed for elimination from our bodies; a pancreas, which can be further manipulated for testing diabetes drugs and therapies; and tumors that exhibit realistic drug response and resistance.