Codex Research, in collaboration with award-winning cardiovascular researcher Associate Professor Steven Wise and his team, have developed what they’re calling “a blood-vessel-in-a-box” – a novel perfusion bioreactor – for research and clinical applications, which grows patient-derived cells in a dynamic environment that closely mimics that of living human tissues.
Now at advanced prototype stage, the project’s rapid development has been made possible because of the partnership between Codex Research CEO Ed Brackenreg and his academic counterpart Associate Professor Wise.
“Our project only exists because of this collaboration,” Brackenreg says.
Codex Research has taken advantage of the federal government’s Research and Development Tax Incentive (R&DTI), and Brackenreg encourages others to do so, saying it helps greatly with cash flow, particularly for small organisations that are not yet at the stage of generating revenue.An Innovative Manufacturing CRC grant of some $6 million and an ARC Linkage Project grant of more than $1 million (each a combination of cash and other support) got it off the ground, and were supplemented by further support from the University of Sydney’s Commercial Development and Industry Partnerships (CDIP) fund and the Diabetes Australia Research Program.
The idea that bioscience research could do with a bit of shake-up first occurred to Brackenreg many years before he co-founded Codex Research in 2017.
At the time he was an experienced commercial pilot with no background in bioscience. Having experienced a few minor health issues and found their diagnosis surprisingly speculative, he became curious as to why, in the 21st century, we aren’t yet able to conclusively diagnose and cure most known diseases.
Attempting to inform himself by reading medical science journals proved impossible without a background in the field, so he enrolled in a Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney, reasoning that if he was going to do something about the issue he would first need to understand it.
Coming from a profession literally built on high-tech engineering, Brackenreg immediately noticed its relative absence in the bioscience lab. “From day one of my undergraduate bioscience studies in a lab, my first question was, ‘Where are the robots?’” he recalls.
There’s no way we could possibly have made this progress alone, in-house, without partnering with experts working in a well-equipped lab, producing scientifically credible outcomes that then convince other funding bodies that the project is worth supporting through further development.
Brackenreg began to engage anyone he could in conversation about these issues, and in Associate Professor Wise he found someone who shared both his interests and his ethos.
Brackenreg recalls, “Steve said he’d like to move away from growing cells in petri dishes, because that’s old science. Cells recognise the environment they’re in and behave accordingly, so cells in a petri dish actually behave differently from cells in a living body.”
The pair discovered that there were grants available for academic research projects involved an industry partner, and so, with some existing business experience, Brackenreg and another University colleague, biochemist Dr Stephanie Helder, jointly established Codex Research and, with Wise, applied for funding to develop a more advanced technology.
From the outset, the team knew that whatever technology they developed needed to be scientifically progressive, ethical, and commercially viable.
Associate Professor Wise explains how they’ve met the first criterion: “Traditional lab cell assays are limited – vascular cells are grown in flat plastic dishes, in what is a pretty rudimentary approach.”
Our 3D (or perhaps 4D) environment gives the cells pressure, flow and other physical forces that better mimic human conditions – making the cells better models of biology and an improved tool for drug discovery and mechanistic studies.
A similar issue applies to research on animals – even in species that share common genes with humans, those genes can have different functions in different species, potentially reducing the relevance of research results to humans. There are also, of course, ethical concerns relating to animal-based research.
The team’s perfusion bioreactor has the potential to produce results which are more reflective of human disease – the implications of which are exciting both scientifically and commercially.
While the team’s device will be competing for a slice of a multibillion-dollar global market over the coming decade, the benefits of their partnership extend far beyond commercial profits, ongoing funding and recognition.
As Brackenreg notes, “Our primary motivation is that we want to live in a world in which we’ve found a cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and so on – not just benefit ourselves and our mates in one lab.”
He believes partnerships between industry and academia to achieve business objectives while advancing human technology should be the norm.
“I think there should be more of it, I really do.”
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