A*STAR's R&D gives Singaporean biomedical firm a headstart

Pharmaceutical firms spend an average of US$5 billion for each new drug developed, according to BCC Research, a US-based research firm. For companies that invest in developing new drugs, their valuation can be tied to the success of drugs in the pipeline.

Drug testing is important to help companies develop drugs more accurately, save time and reduce the risk of investing in something that may not eventually work. 

Currently, in vitro testing of a new drug (conducted inside a laboratory instead of within the human body) uses two-dimensional cell-based models.

Invitrocue leveraged A*STAR’s research and development efforts to create ground-breaking three-dimensional cell-based models that better mimic the human body.

The model acts as an in vitro testing resource for pharmaceutical and biomedical companies, which can better test drugs and medical devices for efficacy before taking them to market.

Alongside in vitro testing, Invitrocue also markets a tissue image analysis platform, which allows pathologists doing biopsies to quickly identify the correct tissues and consult other specialists across the globe for patient diagnosis.

By making biopsy information available digitally, pathologists who work in hospitals located in remote areas can generate their patients’ medical reports within a faster time frame.

The research and development (R&D) for Invitrocue’s solutions was spearheaded by Professor Hanry Yu, a group leader at A*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering Nanotechnology (IBN).

Professor Yu, who currently serves as Invitrocue’s scientific mentor and advisor, developed the technologies over a period of seven years before Invitrocue was founded in 2012.

By licensing the initial technology from A*STAR, Invitrocue was able to focus solely on bringing new solutions to market. According to Professor Yu, this model of adopting ready-made technology can help other biomedical companies reduce the costs needed to develop new disruptive technologies for the marketplace.

Besides having access to ready-made technology, Invitrocue’s R&D capabilities were assisted by research talent seconded from A*STAR research institutes.

These researchers played key roles in facilitating Invitrocue’s listing on the Australian Securities Exchange, as well as securing partnerships for the company with major pharmaceutical firms, such as Novartis.

Invitrocue also benefited from flexible gap funding options in its early days provided by A*STAR’s commercialisation arm ETPL, as well as SPRING Singapore.

With its high entry costs and associated risks, it may not be easy for a new biomedical company to break into the marketplace. However, adopting ready-made technology made it possible for Invitrocue to do so quickly, and doubled its revenue every year since its inception.