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Redefining Preclinical Testing With High-Complexity In Vitro Models

A picture of differentiated SH-SY5Y on Revivocell NANOSTACKS™.
A picture of differentiated SH-SY5Y on Revivocell NANOSTACKS™. Credit: Revivocell.
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In the rapidly evolving field of drug discovery, the adoption of in vitro models offers a promising alternative to traditional animal testing. These models not only provide a more ethical approach by reducing animal use but also enhance the efficiency and accuracy of preclinical testing. They are critical in identifying potential failures early in the drug development process, saving both time and resources.

Revivocell’s goal is to develop complex in vitro models to address key issues associated with drug development. To dive deeper into how these in vitro models are supporting pharmaceutical development and their future potential, Technology Networks spoke with Raffaello Sbordoni, research scientist at Revivocell.

Molly Campbell (MC): Can you tell us about your company’s story and the development of your NANOSTACKS Organ Models?

Raffaello Sbordoni (RS): Revivocell began as a spinoff from Lancaster University. Our guiding principle, or “North Star”, has always been to develop the best in vitro models possible. We spent a considerable amount of time developing our platforms to achieve this goal, which culminated in the release of the NANOSTACKSTM platform. We then focused our attention on validating our proprietary models, which are now ready for use!

A scheme of Revivocell NANOSTACKS™. Credit: Revivocell.

MC: Can you discuss your product portfolio and perhaps share case studies/ examples of how it is being utilized in drug discovery/ development?

RS: Our portfolio includes in vitro models of the liver, brain and of the liver‒brain axis. We also develop customized models, tailored to the client’s requirements. Our models include multiple cell types and are able to replicate the cell‒cell interactions typically observed in vivo. Additionally, our models are very easy to use ‒ plate reader-based assays, imaging-based assays and assays based on the sampling of cells or supernatants can be performed easily. Typical inquiries come from biotech companies, that are primarily looking to conduct toxicity screening, though we are always open to other requests!

MC: Why is it important that we reduce the reliance on animals for preclinical testing of pharmaceutical compounds? Can you also discuss the stance of regulatory bodies on the use of animal preclinical testing?

RS: Animals feel pain. That alone should suffice as a reason to reduce their use! Additionally, animals do not adequately recapitulate all aspects of the human body, and this “mismatch” often results in drug failures during clinical trials. This factor contributes to the notoriously slow pace of drug development, with important repercussions on public health – and therefore on our personal well-being. Regulatory agencies are moving in the right direction by opening up to the use of advanced in vitro models as a way to reduce the use of animal models, so there is a silver lining.

MC: Can you explain the importance of obtaining in vivo relevancy of data from in vitro toxicity and efficacy studies for drug development pipelines?

RS: This is crucial if we want to speed up drug discovery and reduce the use of animals. Having in vivo-relevant models allows us to detect any unexpected toxicity and side effects early on in the drug development process, avoiding potentially fruitless, lengthy and costly animal testing and clinical trials. When it comes to efficacy studies, complex in vitro models can potentially provide a better estimation of the efficacy of a novel treatment when the animal model of a particular disease lacks human relevance.

MC: What are the greatest challenges that you face as a start-up in the drug discovery space, and what could help/is helping you to overcome these challenges?

RS: The biggest challenge is always the resistance to reducing the use of animal models in favor of in vitro models. However, a cultural shift is already taking place, thanks to the efforts of scientists communicating to the public the advancements and benefits of high-complexity in vitro models.

Raffaello Sbordoni was speaking to Molly Campbell, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks.

About the interviewee

Raffaello Sbordoni earned his PhD in tissue engineering from University College London, specializing in organ-on-a-chip models of human airways. At Revivocell, as a research and development scientist, he leverages his interdisciplinary expertise in engineering and biology to design complex in vitro models, focusing on the central nervous system.