This technology, created as part of a visionary project backed by the ERC and developed within IIT
Foresee Biosystems has been created: this new start-up within the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT, Italian Institute of Technology) makes it possible to assess the safety of pharmaceuticals more accurately, before they are put onto the market. This newly-founded company, benefiting from a corporate investment of 500,000 euro, will begin selling a device that will make it possible to test the potential toxicity of new pharmaceuticals on the heart, a critical aspect of the preclinical stages in the development of new drugs.
Hundreds of thousands of deaths are caused every year worldwide by undesired effects of pharmaceuticals on the heart. These effects are the fifth-highest cause of mortality in the United States. It has been calculated that from 2016, about 2,000 compounds (pharmaceuticals or other products) have been withdrawn from the market as a result of their undesired effects on the heart.
Cardiac toxicity is the most frequent cause for the withdrawal of pharmaceuticals from the market, both in Europe and the United States. The assessment of drugs’ cardiac toxicity is therefore a fundamental factor in patient health. Current analytical techniques are not capable of revealing, with total certainty, the possible cardiac toxicity of molecules during preclinical and clinical trials, with the result that certain molecules reach the market, only to be withdrawn years later. The technology developed by Foresee Biosystems will make it possible to improve the procedures for the detection of risks for the heart during preclinical stages of development, because it is capable of simultaneously measuring the intracellular electrical activity of thousands of human cardiac cells in vitro. By means of the device that has been developed, Foresee can assess the way in which the heart would react to a chemical substance and the way in which the latter could affect its functions. The methods currently available on the market are able to determine these effects over short intervals of time, while Foresee technology makes it possible to continuously monitor effects on cardiac cells, in vitro and therefore on the heart, over the course of several weeks.
The first product by the company – which is expected to reach break-even in its third year of business – will be destined for research centres, and it will be placed on the market before the end of 2021. Over the next 2 years, a product with more advanced characteristics, destined for clinical research centres (CRO – Contract Research Organisations) and pharmaceutical companies, will be put on sale. The first product developed will cost about 50,000 euro, but today it is already possible to utilise Foresee technology for the cardiac toxicity testing of pharmaceuticals under development by means of the screening services offered by Foresee itself.
“We are very happy that the technology developed in our laboratories will now be able to provide support for pharmaceutical companies in the development of safer drugs, a process that will be more rapid than previously. Today more than ever before, it is clear that these characteristics are fundamental in permitting a fast and safe reaction to health crises such as that currently under way”, explained Michele Dipalo, IIT researcher and one of the founders of Foresee. “Foresee Biosystems designs and markets products and services that enable the precision monitoring of new drugs’ chronic toxicity on cardiac cells, with a reliability that has been impossible to attain up until now with the methods available on the market”, concluded Giovanni Melle, CEO of the IIT start-up.
“Foresee is the tangible demonstration of an innovative model of technological transfer. Thanks to the work of IIT’s European design team, the Institute received significant financing, which made it possible to launch a cooperation between IIT and a business angel from abroad specialising in this sector”, said Matteo Bonfanti, Technology Transfer Manager at IIT. “As a result of the experience within the European project, this partner of international importance decided to invest in Italian technological excellence”, concluded Bonfanti.
The technology underlying the Foresee platform was developed as part of a high-risk research project with finance awarded by the European Research Council (NeuroPlasmonics) to one of the start-up’s founders, Francesco De Angelis, an IIT researcher who will take on the role of Scientific Advisor for the company. In addition, following the patent filed in 2017, the technology for the test on cardiac cells was published in the prestigious international scientific magazine Nature Nanotechnology in 2018. In the same year, the idea underpinning Foresee won first place in the Life Science category of the SMARTcup Liguria competition. Converting the device into a product ready to be introduced onto the market was made possible in part by additional financing from the European Research Council, a Proof-of-Concept grant designed to help researchers who had already received ERC funding to bridge the gap between pioneering laboratory research and the initial phases of its market launch.
The Foresee team comprises Giovanni Melle (30 years old, CEO), Nicolò Colistra (30 years old, CTO) and Michele Dipalo (40 years old, founder and Chairman of the Board) and it benefits from the scientific support provided by the other founders Francesco De Angelis, Giuseppina Iachetta and Francesco Tantussi. Alongside the IIT-based team with scientific experience, the Board also includes Karl-Heinz Boven and Andreas Moeller, founders of Multi Channel System that has a position of leadership in the electrophysiology field: they believe in the start-up and have provided support for it by means of their decade-long expertise in the sector.