Fantastic to hear about a new, substantial U.S. government funding effort in microfluidics research! Last month a joint effort between the NIH, DARPA, and the FDA was announced to develop human-on-chip platforms to test drug candidates more efficiently and accurately. The NIH and DARPA are soliciting proposals separately from all types of research organizations (academic, industry, government, other) and each agency plans to commit up to $70 million to the effort (up to $140 million combined).
A big problem in drug development is that current methods for testing safety and efficacy are either cheap and inaccurate (in vitro experiments, animal studies) or more accurate and very expensive (human clinical trials cost $20k – $50k per patient). Often a drug works in a mouse but doesn’t work in humans, leading to millions lost on failed clinical trials. The hope is that microphysiological environments mimicking human tissue and organ structure may enable more accurate assessment of a drug’s performance at much lower cost. These chips wouldn’t replace clinical trials, but might allow us to hone in on effective drugs earlier in the development process, saving time and money.
DARPA has already begun soliciting proposals, and abstracts are due in just a few days (Oct 27, 2011). Full proposals are due on Dec 12, 2011. To apply, see more information here and here. There’s also a teaming website here to help facilitate collaboration. From the DARPA website:
DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals to develop an in vitro platform of human tissue constructs that accurately predicts the safety, efficacy, and pharmacokinetics of drug/vaccine candidates prior to their first use in man. Alternative testing methods that rely on isolated human cells hold the promise of authentic human responses to candidate drugs, vaccines, and biologics. Recent research has shown that three-dimensional constructs of one or more cell types are able to reproduce relatively authentic human tissue and organ physiology in an in vitro environment. As a result, DARPA seeks in vitro platforms comprised of human tissue constructs that will accurately assess efficacy, toxicity, and pharmacokinetics in a way that is relevant to humans and suitable for regulatory review.
Interested vendors listed so far include InVivoSciences and Cell Therapy Group.
Organ-on-a-chip work at the Wyss Institute
Hurel, spun out of Michael Shuler’s lab at Cornell
Hepregen, spun out of Sangeeta Bhatia’s lab at MIT, has developed microliver platforms to enable better prediction of how drugs may affect the human liver