In April 2014, the organ transplant waiting list in the UK stood at 7,005 people. Organ transplants today are both clinically- and cost- effective, but there aren’t enough organs available.
Dr Steve Bloor was determined to do something about it. He left his job in 2011 to raise private venture finance for clinical trials of tissue engineered trachea and bowel replacement organs, based on the Northwick Park technology. Initially investors’ hands stayed firmly in their pockets.
“People could see the potential they were reluctant to commit money. Regenerative medicine is still largely unproven, and regulatory pathways are still evolving. This creates high levels of risk for private investors,” said Steve.
Steve set up Videregen on a shoestring and faced the development gap issues familiar to many small, innovative businesses. The Cell Therapy Catapult, based at Guy’s Hospital in London, helped him turn things around.
It not only offered access to its clinical and regulatory expertise but became part of the trachea consortium alongside University College London (UCL), the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and NHS Blood and Transplant. The validation helped Vidregen secure £1.9 million in grant funding from Innovate UK in mid-2013.
“The ‘valley of death’ is very real. We might still be there if it wasn’t for our partnership with the Cell Therapy Catapult and UCL and the funding from Innovate UK. It was critical in persuading investors that we were a credible group of people, and helped us attract a further £1.2 million in private investment,” said Steve.
Following grant funding, the company expects to go into full clinical trials in 2015.
There’s no strong history of trachea and small bowel transplants. They’re difficult to transplant and while chronic diseases affecting the trachea or the bowel can be devastating, they’re rarely immediately life-threatening in the same way as kidney or liver failure.
Millions of dollars are spent annually worldwide on treating chronic conditions related to the bowel or the trachea. A successful transplant technology that offers a cure would not only benefit patients, but have the potential to greatly reduce healthcare costs.
“For the trachea transplants alone, we estimate the market value across Europe and the US could be up to £300 million,” said Steve.
If the cell therapy being trialled for trachea transplants can also be used for major organs like kidneys and livers, it could benefit an even larger patient population and the global market could be worth billions.
All the cells are removed from a donor trachea to leave a ‘scaffold’, which can then be transplanted to any person. Cells from the patient receiving the donor trachea are used to ‘seed’ the scaffold so the organ transplanted into the patient is not rejected by the patient’s immune system.
For the bowel, pig organs can also be used for replacement. Anatomically, pig bowel is almost identical to human and the quality and consistency of organs can be tightly controlled – making them a better choice in some instances.
This technology is expected to have almost no rejection issues. Currently patients have to take expensive anti-rejection drugs for life – which often have toxic side-effects and sometimes don’t work.
The Cell Therapy Catapult was instrumental in getting Videregen from a start-up to viable business
“It’s enabled us to access world leading manufacturing facilities for regenerative medicine and stem cell work, we wouldn’t be here without them,” said Steve.
The story has only just begun. Videregen is now on the “Innovate UK runway” with specific milestones throughout the three-year grant period that act as gateways for raising additional finance.
Consequently Videregen and the UK are set to be world-leaders in trachea and bowel transplants, saving both lives and money in years to come.
Liverpool-based Videregen, led by Dr Steve Bloor was formed in 2011 as a spin-out of technology developed atNorthwick Park Institute for Medical Research (NPIMR). It uses regenerative medicine procedures to engineer replacement organs such as trachea or bowel, grafting the patient’s cells to a donor organ stripped of its own cells.