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SUN Bioscience selected for StartLab Incubator

05.02.2019 17:02
Nathalie Brandenberg, Sylke Hoehnel, Jeroen van den Oever

SUN Bioscience, the Swiss bioengineering venture led by Sylke Hoehnel is the 5th start-up to join Biopôle’s StartLab in Epalinges. Pioneering a new approach to precision health, the company uses organoids, that are stem cell derived micro-tissues that represent patients and their diseases in all their facets. The solution impressed StartLab Advisory Board.

Just a few weeks after launching its Gri3D platform enabling large-scale, standardized, rapid, and reliable production of 3-D in vitro organoid cultures from patient stem cells, SUN Bioscience achieves a new milestone. The company will join the growing list of promising life science startups based at Biopôle’s StartLab in Epalinges. The first four were SEED Biosciences, HaYa Therapeutics, GNUbiotics and Volumina Medical. 

Disrupting Precision Health with organoids

Founded in 2016 by Nathalie Brandenberg and Sylke Hoehnel, SUN bioscience works on a new approach to Precision Health. Instead of or in addition to genetic biomarkers, the start-up uses organoids, that are stem cell derived micro-tissues that represent patients and their diseases in all their facets. Sylke Hoehnel explains “Our vision is to enable organoid-driven personalized medicine by reducing the burdens of accessing and working with patient-derived organoids via technologies and services that we provide and will provide in the future.”

SUN bioscience’s first platform, Gri3D, a microwell array technology for reproducible image-based phenotypic screenings, is being implemented for a cystic fibrosis diagnostic test. Such patient-treatment matching based on organoids has the potential to overcome the limitations of genetic biomarkers whereby the outcome of a complex system is directly tested, rather than predicted based on a set of single, often non-correlated, factors. The idea for the Gri3D technology was born out of the PhD from both founders in the Laboratory of Stem Cell Bioengineering at EPFL.

As the CEO and co-founder Sylke Hoehnel further explains: “We are first addressing the problems that most 3D technologies are difficult to scale, especially organoids, that are typically even more complex than 3D spheroid models (they require multiple cell types or long differentiation/maturation times). Our Gri3D platform is unique as it combines already formed microstructured hydrogels, that can be easily customised to different organoid protocols. Additionally because the hydrogel is already formed, our customers can adopt to our technologies very easily and they are compatible with high-throughput automation processes both for the production and also analysis of organoids.” 

Benefiting from Startlab’ unique positioning

For the founders, the Startlab environment has a very unique positioning as it’s one of the only startup rent-in locations in Switzerland offering equipped laboratory space. Especially in the beginning when young companies don’t need 100% laboratory space, building such an environment is a big money investment for something that you will not use all the time. So that is something that convinced the team. The proximity to Centre Hospitalier Vaudois (CHUV) is also something very valuable to them.

Biopôle Lausanne looks also forward to the arrival of the Swiss bioengineering startup, as its CEO, Nasri Nahas explains: “We are delighted to welcome Sun Biosciences as the 5th company to be incubated in StartLab. The Advisory Board unanimously voted positively for this great start-up supported by solid science in the fast growing field of organoids. The company's founders and management team enjoy the right mindset and skills to drive the company towards an innovative and growing business model. Thanks to StartLab coaching and the support of Entrepreneur's Club, their chances of success will be maximised.” 

Many challenges await SUN Bioscience

Speaking of the future plans of the company, Sylke Hoehnel explains “We will first move our Gri3D production robot until May/June 2019 and from there we will see whether and when we will install our human organoid cultures, because this needs to be properly set up.”

SUN Bioscience next challenge is to streamline the production and sales of Gri3D. Gri3D is already used by various groups in the large Swiss Pharma companies to streamline their 3D screening approaches. The founders want to focus on these type of customers and expand their customer portfolio. In parallel their technology is used for a clinical pilot (with 15 patients) investigating how organoids can be used to predict treatment responses for Cystic Fibrosis and when the data for this clinical pilot is in, the goal is to expand this to a larger clinical study.

Who will be the 6th startup to join StartLab?

Swiss life science startups wishing to seize the StartLab Incubator opportunity can send their application until March 31st. Selected startups will join the next cohort in Spring. More information is available on StartLab website.

Picture: Nathalie Brandenberg, Sylke Hoehnel, Jeroen van den Oever

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