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Semarion Wins SLAS Europe Ignite Award 2024

Various cell types inside SemaCyte wells.
Various cell types inside SemaCyte wells. Credit: Semarion
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The Ignite Award, issued by the Society of Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS), recognizes the best startup or emerging company presented at its annual conferences. The award is granted based on key concepts such as market potential, plans for growth, funding prospects and balanced company leadership.

At the 5th annual SLAS Europe event in Barcelona, Spain, the Ignite Award was granted to Semarion, a biotechnology company working to develop technology to accelerate cell assaying workflows.

Technology Networks had the pleasure to speak with Jeroen Verheyen, CEO of Semarion, at this year’s event, to discuss their award-winning work and how innovations in technology are advancing research.

Sarah Whelan (SW): Can you provide an overview of how advances in cell assays and screening are transforming research?

Jeroen Verheyen (JV): Advances in cell assays and screening are revolutionizing research by significantly enhancing the speed, accuracy and efficiency of drug discovery. Modern technologies enable high-throughput screening, allowing researchers to quickly test thousands of compounds, thereby reducing time and costs. There is a drive for denser, more physiologically relevant datasets, supported by increased high-content imaging and the use of complex cell models such as induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived or patient-derived cells.

Additionally, the trend toward lab automation aims to minimize human variables, enhancing reproducibility and efficiency. Semarion’s SemaCyte® solution further supercharges cell assays by accelerating data generation and improving the reliability and scalability of experiments, facilitating the rapid and accurate discovery of therapeutic compounds.

SW: Congratulations on winning the Ignite Award at SLAS Europe 2024. Could you briefly introduce us to the SemaCyte platform and how it operates?

JV: Thank you! The SemaCyte platform is a cutting-edge materials technology designed to transform in vitro drug discovery. It addresses the fundamental limitation of adherent cell assays, where cells need to stick to a surface, leading to long preparation times, automation challenges and limited miniaturization. Our SemaCyte microcarriers function as ultra-miniaturized, mobile, barcoded wells that carry adherent cells in suspension.

SemaCytes in wells. Credit: Semarion.

Cells are seeded onto arrays of immobilized microcarriers and then released into suspension, turning adherent cells into liquid reagents compatible with automated liquid handling systems and standard microplate workflows. This streamlines the cell assay process, producing better data faster. The platform also allows for the cryopreservation in cryovials of surface-adhered assay-ready cells, eliminating preparation times and reducing batch variability. The optical barcodes on the microcarriers enable the identification and multiplexing of different cell types within a single well, drastically increasing throughput and cost-effectiveness of cell panel screens. Additionally, we ultra-miniaturize assays by reducing the number of cells needed per well in microplate-based assays.

SW: What do you see as the main challenges labs face when adopting cell screening approaches, and how does your technology address them?

JV: Labs adopting cell screening approaches often face challenges such as lengthy preparation times, high costs and the complexity of handling adherent cells. Traditional methods require large quantities of cells and extensive manual handling, which slows down the drug discovery process. The SemaCyte platform addresses these challenges by providing a more efficient workflow. It reduces the number of cells needed, enables the cryopreservation of assay-ready cells and integrates seamlessly with existing automation tools. This results in faster data generation, lower costs and improved scalability, making the adoption of cell screening approaches more accessible and efficient for labs.

SW: How can this approach impact the day-to-day workflow for scientists, especially in terms of scalability and reliability?

JV: The SemaCyte platform significantly impacts the daily workflow of scientists by enhancing both scalability and reliability. By miniaturizing assays and enabling the multiplexing of different cell types, it allows researchers to perform more experiments in less time and with fewer resources. The ability to cryopreserve assay-ready cells and quickly thaw them for use reduces preparation times and variability between batches. This streamlined process increases throughput and consistency in data, making it easier for scientists to conduct large-scale screenings and obtain reliable results. Overall, the SemaCyte® platform simplifies and accelerates the drug discovery workflow.

SW: Can you tell us more about the applications that SemaCyte is being used for, such as in vitro drug discovery?

JV: The SemaCyte platform is being utilized for a variety of applications in in vitro drug discovery. It is particularly valuable for target validation, compound profiling and biomarker discovery. By allowing the multiplexing of different cell types in a single well, it accelerates the screening of compounds across diverse cell populations. This capability is beneficial for identifying efficacy, toxicity and mechanism of action. The platform is used in collaboration with research institutes and pharmaceutical companies for arrayed CRISPR screens and high-content imaging assays, significantly enhancing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of these processes.

SW: How do you envision this research space and landscape evolving in the near future?

JV: In the near future, we envision the research space and landscape evolving towards greater integration of advanced materials science, automation and data analytics in cell-based assays. The adoption of platforms like ours will become more widespread, enabling more complex assays at a higher throughput. This will lead to faster and more accurate drug discovery processes, with reduced costs and improved scalability. Additionally, the trend towards personalized medicine will drive the need for more precise and efficient screening methods, further emphasizing the importance of innovative technologies. Overall, we anticipate a future where enhanced cell workflows significantly accelerate scientific breakthroughs and therapeutic development.

Jeroen Verheyen was speaking to Dr. Sarah Whelan, Science Writer for Technology Networks.

About the interviewee:

Jeroen Verheyen is co-founder and CEO at Semarion. He holds a master's degree in biomedical science from KU Leuven and nanotechnology from Dresden University of Technology. His doctoral research at Cambridge University focused on clinical neurosciences.