10 to Watch Winner – Apricell Biotechnology

Sectors: Technology and Health

Year Launched: 2021

Founders: From left, Amir Seyfoori, CEO, and Matt Sutherland

Unique selling proposition: Apricell is changing the way new anti-cancer drugs are developed by creating models that are more accurate, cheaper and faster to use than the current methods for drug testing.

Strategy: Apricell is developing a platform that allows researchers and drug developers to test new anti-cancer drugs on patient-mimicking tumour models for more predictive results, significantly reducing the reliance on animal testing.

Website: apricell.com

Apricell Biotechnology began with one question: What could be done to reduce the 95 per cent failure rate of new anti-cancer drugs in clinical trials? Amir Seyfoori, Apricellʼs CEO and co-founder, had just graduated with his master’s degree in biomedical engineering when his closest friend was diagnosed with lung cancer. Although the friend underwent immediate chemotherapy, treatment was unsuccessful. 

“Missing a close friend of mine, at that time, was the greatest driving force for me to want to help people with cancer find more accurate solutions for treatment,” says Seyfoori. 

With his team, including co-founder Matt Sutherland, Seyfoori was able to form a lab-grown mini tumour. These human-mimicking tissue models appear on small chips (known in the industry as “organs-on-a-chip”) and allow researchers to see how cells interact with specific interventions.

“It sounds amazing to have small-sized human organs on a chip. We mimic the cancerous tissues on our microchips to predict the effect of different treatments,” says Seyfoori. “These organoids can be made in the lab to open new horizons in human biology.” 

Despite significant technological advances, anti-cancer drug development has become slower and more expensive, Seyfoori says. Preclinical cancer models, such as 2D cell layers and animal models, fail to accurately recreate human biology, making it challenging to predict how humans will respond to a drug before it is administered. This phenomenon is known as Eroom’s Law, the observation that drug discovery is becoming slower and more expensive over time. Apricell aims to reverse this.

Apricell, which earned its name from the apricot shape cancer cells take when not attached to their environment, is currently developing models for various types of cancer, including brain, ovarian, pancreatic and breast. These avatars will allow scientists to test new treatments without the ethical issues associated with testing on animals or humans. 

There’s still plenty of work to do. Seyfoori says organs-on-a-chip technology is evolving. “While these technologies have the potential to provide valuable insights into the function and response of human organs, they are still in the early stages of development and have limitations,” he says. “It’s important to view organs-on-a-chip as a complementary tool.”