The BioEscalator hosted the virtual Industry Insight Seminar featuring medical device company, OrganOx and Ochre Bio, the BioEscalator’s own resident biotech company, focused on delivering healthy livers for transplantation. These two innovative companies share a joint public health goal to increase the number of viable livers available for transplant.
Approximately a third of donors’ livers are discarded every year due to organ quality or liver disease concerns. This dramatically impacts waiting list mortality, with ~25% of patients dying before receiving a life-saving liver transplant. So what can be done? The two companies eloquently described their two-pronged approach: a device to keep organs viable once removed from the body and gene therapy to ‘fix’ unhealthy fatty livers. These innovations can significantly increase the number of healthy livers available for transplant, thereby negating the organ shortage and saving lives.
Andy Self, Commercial Director for OrganOx, explained how the company created a device to sustain donor livers for longer, increasing the number of healthy organs for transplant by up to 20%. Their first product, the metra®, can support livers outside the body for up to 24h by maintaining donor organs under physiological conditions. This allows the donor’s liver to be tested before transplant, enabling more organs to be safely utilised.
OchreBio is focused on directly rejuvenating donor livers using gene therapy. Dr Quin Wills, Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Ochre Bio, informed the zoom audience that fatty liver disease contributes to more deaths than all cancers combined. He described how Ochre Bio is utilising siRNA to silence overactive genes that drive liver disease. Dr Wills commented, “We are developing genomic medicines to rejuvenate these donor livers before the transplant so that everyone who needs a new liver gets one.” Ochre has sequenced livers which were perfused on the OrganOx device and are currently using discarded donor livers to validate the genomics led, machine learning technology.
Combining these two novel technologies will enable new therapeutics for the treatment of fatty liver disease to be developed and validated in a physiological setting, thereby accelerating the timeline for bringing these much-needed treatments to market.
OrganOx was founded in 2008 by Prof Peter Friend, Director of the Oxford Transplant Centre and Prof Constantin Coussios, Director of Oxford’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering. The metra® received a CE mark in 2016 and has been used in over transplant 800 patients. They are now developing similar technology for kidney transplants.
OchreBio was founded in 2019 and received seed funding through the Y combinator programme in California before moving to the Oxford BioEscalator. CEO Jack O’Meara is a biomedical engineer, and CSO Quin Wills is a computational biologist. Ochre Bio’s machine learning platform utilises samples from Oxford University’s Quality in Organ Donation, QUOD, to identify potential therapeutic targets in early stage liver disease.
INDUSTRY INSIGHTS SEMINAR SERIES
The hour-long seminar run on the first Tuesday of the month is organised by Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division Industry Partnerships Office, MSD IPO and the BioEscalator. The seminars are designed to inform on the innovation occurring at the boundary of academia/industry and tell the entrepreneurial story to motivate and inspire scientists and researchers looking to engage with biotechs. An essential part of these seminars is fostering interactions and increasing collaboration between pharma, SMEs, and the University’s staff and students.