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Emulate Collaboration Highlights Potential New Era for Drug Development

Innovation Center June 18th, 2015

By Dashyant Dhanak, Ph.D., Global Head, Discovery Sciences at Janssen Research and Development

Better Predictive Pre-Clinical Tools Emerging That May Produce Safer Drugs; More Successful Clinical Trials; Reduced Usage of Animals in Research

Today I am pleased to announce the formation of an exciting new collaboration with Emulate, a leading technology company whose “Organs-on-Chips” platform has been shown to mimic aspects of human physiology important in drug development.  The technology has potential both to deliver safer medicines to the Janssen pipeline and reduce drug candidate attrition in human clinical trials. The development of such technologies may also allow us to reduce animal testing in preclinical research—especially when we better understand the predictive value of these new tools.  Janssen has long been an advocate for reducing and replacing animal testing, and the adoption and refining of new testing technologies will allow us to go further on that path.

Teams from Emulation and Johnson & Johnson collaborating on organ-on-a-chip technology

There is intense industry-wide interest in the development and deployment of preclinical model systems that more accurately recapitulate human biology and physiology.  Targeted government funding of academic research, as well as venture-backed start ups have helped us to advance the field recently. For example, Emulate’s Organ-on-Chip technology was first developed at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, which received $37 million in 2012 from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Beyond important funding streams and emerging technologies, this exciting new era is being shaped through broad collaboration.  Pharmaceutical industry and public-private organizations are working closely to identify and test new model-organ technologies that could one day be adopted by regulatory agencies. 

Emulate Collaboration

Emulate’s platform technology creates biochip microenvironments that have tiny channels lined with living human cells cultured under continuous fluid flow and mechanical forces—simulating organ-level physiology and biologic responses.

Working together with our partners at Emulate, we will be able to conduct in vitro testing of drug candidates in environments that more closely resemble human physiology. 

Our initial collaboration with Emulate includes the ‘Lung-on-Chip’ and ‘Thrombosis-on-Chip’ platform designed to evaluate drug-induced thrombosis, a potential adverse side effect for certain drugs. The Thrombosis-on-Chip model was developed to emulate the conditions and various physiologic parameters involved in clot formation and to provide insights into the factors implicated in thrombosis.  The Janssen and Emulate team have recently demonstrated the ability to quantitatively evaluate platelet activation and aggregation in this in vitro, engineered, microfluidic system.

We are also working with the ‘Liver-on-Chip’ platform to evaluate the safety and metabolic profile of drug candidates, with the goal of improving the predictive value of pre-clinical data and translation to clinical studies.


Technology Developments Will Drive New Paradigms

In addition to our work with Emulate, we are collaborating with other companies that have developed distinct humanized microenvironment models for drug candidate testing.

For example, Janssen continues to collaborate with HemoShear Therapeautics applying their unique human vascular tissue disease models and discovery platform in the important disease area of for rheumatoid arthritis. In addition we are also working with the company Organovo, which is using 3D bio-printing of cells to create distinctive tumor microenvironments.

As we collaborate with these and other companies, an exciting level of new data will emerge that regulatory agencies working with industry will compare against standard models.  This data could allow replacement of traditional models and animal testing with more predictive in vitro models for evaluating safety and efficacy before clinical testing.

My colleagues across Janssen are dedicated to bringing forward this new paradigm for drug development.

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