Durham-based Altis Biosystems sells unique human cell platform for more accurate drug-testing

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DURHAM — Altis Biosystems, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill spinout, has created a unique organ on a chip platform that makes drug discovery faster, cheaper, and safer, and reduces the need for animal testing.

Altis, which recently moved from the University to new offices and labs in Durham, is commercializing RepliGut. It is a next-generation stem cell technology that recreates the human intestinal epithelium to improve compound screening and microbiome research for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

Altis received multiple state and federal grants of $2.3 million to help develop its technology, and now sells its RepliGut as a product. It also provides contract research services on the platform to many biopharmaceutical companies, including half of the top-20 pharma companies. The grants came from NC Idea, Carolina Kickstarter, and a state business development grant, among others.

In late July, Altis closed a $3.1 million seed round led by Venture South. It was joined by local investors including RTP, Capital and Hatteras Venture Partners, and other syndicate partners across the country including members of the Atlanta Technology Angels in Atlanta and Central Texas Angel Network in Austin. Altis CEO Michael Biron said the round was oversubscribed and 50 percent over its fund-raising target.

The depth and geographic breadth of its investor network suggests the game-changing nature of the Altis platform.

The company was founded in 2015 by the UNC-CH Biomedical Engineering Department to address the biopharmaceutical industry’s intense need for more accurate drug-screening methods using in vitro platforms. Current drug testing methods prior to human testing, have left the industry with an 88 percent failure rate.

The main source of the problem is the use of CaCo-2 cancer cells, which are mutated, and animal testing, neither of which can accurately predict human results.

In an exclusive interview with WRAL TechWire, Biron explained that the Altis platform uses a single layer of stem cells from donor organs to replicate normal intestinal tissues. “That allows us to do much more physiologically relevant assays,” he said. Biron said the company actually got down to business about 2017 when it brought him aboard.

Biron has over 15 years of operations management experience in a variety of settings. He is a former U.S. Army Officer, with experience in project management, logistics, and leadership development. While serving in the army, he was responsible for managing up to 50 personnel, while stationed at home, and overseas. Prior to the military, Michael spent several years as a top sales representative.

Michael Biron, CEO of Altis Biosystems. Altis photo.

The Altis platform is being used to test drugs for irritable bowel disease (IBD) and cancer. “The number one cause of therapeutic drug failure worldwide is toxicity,” Biron said. The Altis platform allows companies to test for toxicity, inflammatory response, intestinal barrier function and more.

Biron adds that it could also be used for any type of oral medication because they’re absorbed through the intestine.

In addition to more than half the top 20 biopharma firms, its platform is also being used by small and medium-sized companies, Biron noted.

The company has part and fulltime employees and expects that to grow by year’s end, Biron said. While some of its employees are working virtually and a number of its University co-founders are part-time because they have fulltime jobs, others are at work in its office and labs at 6 Davis Drive.

“We’re at work culturing cells,” Biron said. “We take the proper precautions. Mask, social distancing, sanitation. Our facility is large enough to let us work in the lab.”

Biron said the company is focused on its intestinal platform, but has potential for testing liver and kidney therapeutics as well.

Original Article Source: WRAL TechWire