Start-up Vacis reports funding for clinical phase & continued growthnovember 23, 2019
Breakthrough with new, endogenous veins
The video clip on the Vacis website provides a very clear explanation. Via a small incision, a thin polymer rod is inserted into the patient's subcutaneous tissue. Four weeks later, a completely new vein has formed around the rod. The rod is removed, the new vein is connected to the bloodstream, and the procedure is done.
What's in it for the patient? Ken Messier, chief operations officer at Vacis, is eager to explain. “The video shows a fictitious kidney patient who is dependent on kidney dialysis. In many cases, the patients’ veins have been damaged by all the punctures, and it becomes impossible to administer a drip. This means that dialysis is no longer an option, and the blood can no longer be purified, with fatal consequences. A new vascular access point will help them. It is a very simple procedure, using simple materials. The body does the work, just as it heals a wound.
This is a simple procedure with a big effect. Every year, around 300,000 dialysis patients die worldwide, most of them just because they no longer have a blood vessel that can be connected to the hemodialysis equipment. "In the future, I expect that we will be able to solve multiple vascular problems by growing new blood vessels in patients. We're only at the beginning of this development, but it is a real breakthrough.”
Cell culture plays a crucial role in regenerative medicine. Researchers from the university medical centers in Leiden and Maastricht had already published about the possibility of cultivating veins in the human body as early as 2010. In 2016, this led to a spin-off, with the company setting up premises at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen together with its first employee Dominik Klump. More precisely, the company set up at InSciTe, the institute that helps start-ups get started with laboratories, cleanrooms, expert operators and other facilities. "These are capital-intensive resources a starting company cannot easily get financing for," says Anneke Minnema, chief financial officer at Vacis. “The availability of InSciTe was the main reason we decided to settle here, where we were able to develop the idea further. We were funded by the RVO (the Netherlands Enterprise Agency), Dutch and German private equity companies and others.”
After two years of in vitro testing and animal testing, the first blood vessels were cultured in a human body at the beginning of this year. "And it was successful," says a proud Ken Messier, an American researcher who originally worked for Pfizer and DSM before starting at Vacis last year. "The basis is a polymer rod, precisely tailored to the vein that we want. This rod undergoes special surface treatment, enabling vascular tissue to form in the body. The vascular tissue is ready within four weeks. We called in vascular surgeons, and they were stunned. The new vein is strong and works immediately."
The first results have also convinced financiers. Chemelot Ventures, LIOF, HTGF and RVO are funding the further development of Vacis. "We are very happy with all of the parties," says Anneke Minnema. "After all, we don’t have any sales yet, and the clinical phase is very expensive. HTGF is a German investor that gives us easier access to the German market. Eventually, we want to roll out this invention in Europe and, later on, in the US. We now have the funds for the clinical phase, marketing and additional employees and consultants."
The Brightlands campus in Geleen is also an ideal place for the growth phase, says Ken Messier. "There are highly skilled knowledge workers available and people who want to pioneer. This is how we recruited Josephine Brackman. She has a PhD and brings a lot of expertise to the table in the field of polymers, IP and organic management among other areas. Our main priority is to validate, certify and market the application for kidney dialysis patients. We expect to obtain our CE mark in 2020, and then we can start delivering the rods to hospitals. At the same time, we are looking beyond the horizon. There are so many potential applications, such as curing varicose veins, claudication and later perhaps damage due to infarctions. It will enable us to save lives. With this financial support, I think we can speed up market introduction by at least a year.”