Cutting-edge research and technology can present new companies with substantial commercial opportunities. However, it is essential to talk to customers and figure out how to make the novel technology fit their needs. Patrick Walsh and Vincent Truong, Co-Founders of the biotech startup Anatomic, learned how to make their technology fit the needs of their customers through the National I-Corps program.
Top: Anatomic cells under a microscope
Bottom: The Anatomic team and supporters at the 2022 Minnesota Walk to Defeat ALS Twin Cities
Spun out of technology developed at the University of Minnesota, Anatomic has created an accelerated manufacturing process to generate human neurons from stem cells that can be used for drug development and cell therapy. Developing new drugs using traditional methods is extremely expensive. Walsh describes the problems faced by the industry:
“The cost of making a new therapeutic is through the roof… It’s estimated to be $4 billion to create a new therapeutic and a lot of people think it’s because of the outdated style in which drugs are developed.
In the discovery phase, whether you’re in the lab doing cell culture in a dish or you’re working with animals, the methodologies to discover drugs are usually – let’s take a rodent, which has nothing in common with a person, and let’s drug it and see if it responds.
But there’s a different way to do it. With the power of human induced pluripotent stem cells, which are basically the master cell that can make the entire body, you can make actual human cells. And then if you’re testing drugs on human cells, and they work on the human cells, then it’s less of a bridge to say it’s going to work on a human patient.”
Anatomic’s flagship product is sensory neurons from stem cells that can sense the external environment. These cells have been used by Anatomic’s customers to test novel non-addictive treatments for pain.
Senso-DM – one of Anatomic’s products
In 2020, Anatomic went through the National I-Corps program. Although they went in with their technology already largely developed, they were able to learn more about their customers and their needs. Through customer interviews, the team realized the importance of specific experiments they needed to run in order to show customers the utility of the neurons. They also discovered that customers needed detailed instructions to effectively use their product.
“We sell the cells (the product) and have generated a simplified processes and instructions for customers to follow. If you don’t have one or the other, then it doesn’t help the customer. And through I-Corps, that’s what we learned, we have the cell, but what data and instructions are needed? You need to have a full manual on it. The conversations (from I-Corps interviews) helped us write the manual.”
The team described the National I-Corps program as intense, but very beneficial. After the program, Anatomic continued to find success. This includes several grants from the state of Minnesota as well as seed funding from the local angel investor community and the University of Minnesota Discovery Capital fund. Currently, Anatomic is continuing to develop other neuronal sub-types useful for neurological diseases such as ALS and is generating revenue.
Interested in Anatomic? Check out their website: https://www.anatomic.tech/
Are you interested in a professional development opportunity that can take your research to the next level? Check out the Great Lakes I-Corps Hub. We have courses designed specifically for MedTech companies.
Written by Chris Eakin
NSF I-Corps Hub: Great Lakes Region, 2022
Photos courtesy of Anatomic