One of our core missions at MatTek is to reduce the use of animals in research. Although many think that the rationale for this aspiration is simply for ethical reasons that isn’t the only case. There are significant financial and scientific reasons as well.
Historically, the rationale for using animals in research is the need to de-risk therapeutics, compounds, cosmetics, and agrochemicals prior to human exposure. Animal testing subjects are intended to translate to human clinical outcomes without exposing humans to the test articles. During development, the process begins with simplistic and high throughput assays that offer poor translatability (e.g., enzymatic assays) and increasing complexity and cost. The throughput is then reduced as we move into simple cell culture models and subsequently animal models with increasing translatability (mouse to non-human primates).
The fundamental problem is that no model perfectly predicts what is going to happen in human clinical applications. This manifests as clinical stage failures where researchers uncover metabolic, toxicological, and efficacy challenges not seen within preclinical studies. These failures prevent the commercialization and consumer usage of their products.
Financial Impact of Advanced Cell Culture Models
As compounds move through the clinical development process, companies can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the evaluation of a single compound. If a compound unexpectedly fails in clinical studies, the program can be completely halted. This outcome results in years of wasted effort and significant expenses with zero return on investment. Better predictive models mean that these later-stage failures will potentially be prevented, and researchers can identify poorly performing compounds more quickly.
As demonstrated by the recent passage of the FDA Modernization Act 2.0, researchers, legislators and the community at large are starting to realize that advanced in vitro models have progressed to a point where they reduce the necessity of animal models. The drug discovery and development pipelines have required animal models for decades. This is true as well for cosmetic and agrochemicals, given that animals were the most ideal model available. However, we have seen a shift away from animal models as we are able to demonstrate the superior translatability of in vitro results from novel advanced cell culture and tissue culture models.
Ideally, the goal is to replicate the human body within an in vitro system that is high throughput and inexpensive. At MatTek, we have successfully developed highly relevant human tissue models for many of the body’s systems such as the lung (EpiAirway, EpiAlveolar), skin (EpiDermFT, EpiDerm), intestine (EpiIntestinal) and liver (HUREL Micro Liver). All of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world, as well as major cosmetics, consumer products, and agrochemical companies, are using these models. These same researchers and companies are continually asking us to develop ever more complex and relevant models.
Future Use of Tissue and Organ System Models
At MatTek, we believe we have only touched the surface for what is possible with modeling the body within in vitro systems. We hope to model all of the major organ systems and develop in vitro systems that combine multiple systems together (i.e., body on a chip). We hold an ethically-based goal of reducing the use of animals. This goal is uniquely aligned with the best interest of companies, patients, and consumers. This goal can also result in lower development costs, safer products, and, hopefully, shorter times to develop life-saving and life-changing products.