10 to Watch Winner 2021 – Axolotl Biosciences

“We’re at a phase now where we can theoretically cure any disease, but how do we get there? When the big players are asking you to market this, it’s a good chance you’re onto something.”— Dr. Stephanie Willerth, cofounder of Axolotl Biosciences.

Dr. Stephanie Willerth, cofounder of Axolotl Biosciences
Photo by Jeffrey Bosdet.

Sector: Biotech

Year Launched: 2020

Founders: Dr. Stephanie Willerth (pictured), Dr.Laura De La Vega, Laila Abelseth

Unique Selling Proposition: Enabling the successful printing of living human tissues.

Strategy: Unique bio ink formulations support the viability and function of living cells that can then be printed.

Website: www.axolotlbiosciences.com

Award sponsor: Equitex Realty Ltd

When Dr. Stephanie Willerth was approached by then grad student Dr. Laura De La Vega and colleague Laila Abelseth about launching a company, she knew they would be on the niche edge of biotech. Their plan: creating goo.

That gelatinous material, known as bio ink, would become the primordial jelly developed by their company Axolotl Biosciences — a unique ink formulation that makes the 3D printing of human tissues possible. With bio printing and STEM cell advancements surging ahead worldwide, Axolotl was onto something.“

Most of the companies are focused on making the printer work,” says Willerth, who is also director of UVic’s Centre for Biomedical Research. “But bioprinters are more about making shapes than preserving STEM cells. Our ink was really good at keeping those cells alive.”

While researchers successfully recreate tissues, the printing process would often kill the cells themselves, rendering the work unviable.

Axolotl’s bio ink formulas support the chemical viability and function of living cells, making the printing not only possible, but highly successful. With the right partners, Willerth says this ink could help print an array of complex cells —from brain neural tissues to heart tissue, blood vessels and sperm. The team is aiming to launch an online platform as early as the summer of 2022, so biotech companies can order ink directly.