In the competition to reach commercialization, many of B.C.’s budding biotech companies are running in a tight race. Yet due to the size of the city’s industry, there is still enough room in the province’s biotech ecosystem for each player to be recognized.
“I actually think it is an advantage to be in Vancouver as opposed to somewhere like the Bay Area because [in the latter] there is a lot of noise and a lack of loyalty to the company you are working at,” said Tamer Mohamed, CEO and co-founder of Aspect Biosystems.
“Everybody is looking to join the next big thing whereas in Vancouver, people have joined and they have stayed and they have grown with the company.”
Aspect Biosystems is the University of British Columbia spinoff startup that made waves by announcing its ability to use live human cells to create and build living human tissue. Aspect has now become one of the pioneering microfluidic 3D bioprinting companies in the world.
Among other achievements, the company’s 3D RX1 bioprinter is being used to create respiratory tissue for pharmaceutical trials – something that could cut reliance on the practice of animal testing. In addition, the company is crafting a portfolio of 3D bioprinted human tissues that will, one day, be available on demand for various clinical uses.
In 2017, the company partnered with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) to produce meniscus tissue – the rubbery disc in the knee that can cause serious long-term damage and pain if injured – from biocompatible materials.
Last year, Aspect received $1 million in repayable funding from Genome BC’s Industry Innovation Program, which assists B.C. companies in the early stages of commercialization. Earlier this year, Aspect was named the 2019 Growth Stage Company of the Year by LifeSciences BC.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time innovating on the business model and we work very closely with academic researchers,” Mohamed said. “We give them access to our platform, and then we share in the success of those results.
“We are tapping into a large network of domain expertise instead of trying to do everything alone.”
The company has continued to grow. Initially launching with 10 employees, it now has 40 and has moved to a new office space at 1781 West 75th avenue. The 8,000-square-foot space dedicated to Aspect is home to all integrated operations, a research and development lab and manufacturing.
Aspect has welcomed new employees from all over the world.
“We have been able to overcome the typical challenge that startups face in recruitment by having a bold vision and facing a global challenge that attracts very smart people to come to Vancouver.”
On the track to commercialization, Aspect is pursuing all available paths to find the right formula.
“We are both kind of putting our platform out there to the research base to fuel long-term application development but we are also focusing on real commercial tissue products internally at Aspect and working with our go-to-market partners,” he said.
“We also use our platform internally within the company to develop different types of applications like good proprietary programs that are exclusive to Aspect, or they also include joint development programs with large multinational pharma or biotech companies.”
Currently, Aspect is developing muscle tissue as well as liver tissue and pancreatic tissue for Type 1 diabetes. All commercial tissue programs are being advanced internally and through various commercial partners.
“Human tissue is in demand,” Mohamed said. “Our vision … is to build an ecosystem and a pipeline of tissue products, working closely with our partners around the world, and take tissues into trials and to get it closer and closer to patients.” •