Biotech startup Anatomi Corp. is working to help accelerate discovery of new treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s with breakthrough technology that speeds the production of human neurons from stem cells.
Anatomi’s Chrono Platform cuts the process of manufacturing neurons or nerve cells to just seven days, down from 30 to 35. That enables customers such as academic researchers, pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations to conduct more experiments and gather data more quickly as they test potential treatments.
Anatomi’s first product is a sensory neuron that researchers can use to test potential pain-management drugs, co-founder Patrick Walsh said.
“The mission is to accelerate drug discovery for all neurological diseases,” co-founder Vincent Truong said. “There are 10,000 different neurons in the brain. Each neuron allows you to study for a different disease.”
It’s pretty sci-fi but it’s happening today,” Walsh said. Their work increasingly is getting Walsh and Truong real-world attention.
Anatomi is one of only five companies just selected to take part in the gBeta Medtech accelerator, a free, seven-week program of University Enterprise Laboratories and gener8tor. Truong and Walsh won a startup Tekne Award in November from the Minnesota High Tech Association. A $100,000 Regenerative Medicine Minnesota Biobusiness grant from the state helped them create their first product, that sensory neuron, which launched in November and is gaining sales.
Anatomi Corp. Business: Biotech startup’s platform accelerates the manufacture of neurons from stem cells to speed research into development of treatments for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Headquarters: Minneapolis CEO: Co-founders Patrick Walsh, Vincent Truong Employees: 2 Founded: June 2018
‘Poised for breakout moves’
Anatomi was among the first graduates of Discovery Launchpad, a startup incubator and coaching program from the University of Minnesota’s Office of Technology Commercialization. Walsh and Truong spent about a year in the program after Anatomi’s June 2018 launch. Mary MacCarthy, a Discovery Launchpad adviser, said Anatomi “is poised for some breakout moves” that will garner even more notice locally and nationally.
“They have a really nice value proposition in that they can provide a service faster than anybody else has been able to crack or achieve through science,” MacCarthy said. “While they’re not diagnosing anything or curing anything, they’re helping companies develop cures faster than anybody else can. I’d say there is a lot of opportunity for them to continue to grow.”
Walsh and Truong developed the underlying technology while working in the U’s Stem Cell Institute. They’re taking the patent-pending process to market under license from the U’s technology commercialization office.
Along the way, Truong, with a biochemistry degree from the U, and Walsh, who has a master’s in stem cell biology also from the U, enrolled in the MBA program at the U’s Carlson School of Management. Those studies have been on hold, however, since the regenerative medicine grant enabled them to ramp up operations.
Anatomi operates in the U’s Stem Cell Business Incubator, a shared space for emerging and expanding businesses using stem cell technologies on the U’s Minneapolis campus. Access to the incubator’s lab equipment has been critical at this early stage, Walsh said.
“If we had to take our idea directly into a company without this, we would have had to attract an investor or something like that, which is very difficult with just proof-of-concept things,” Walsh said. “It essentially would have been impossible without this intermediate step.”
Initial plan reengineered
Truong and Walsh initially planned to use the neuron manufacturing process themselves to create treatments for neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease that Anatomi would market, said Joel Cannon, another Discovery Launchpad adviser who works with Anaotmi.
“They spent time with us looking at the market, the competition and the regulatory challenges around a stem-cell derived drug to treat Parkinson’s and came to the conclusion that the money and time that would be required to start a company around a drug was too big a bite,” Cannon said.
Instead, they decided that their product would be the manufacturing process itself, selling Anatomi’s proprietary cell culture media — various compounded chemicals packed into small bottles — that customers can add to stem cells in their labs to accelerate neuron production as they test potential treatments.
“What they did was a pivot before there was a need to pivot, before they had spent any money,” Cannon said. “It’s a very good outcome because oftentimes when folks start building a business and start spending money on a particular business model changing becomes hard. If you can do that up front, research and work on your markets and think about what it is that you want out of a business, then you get a better start.”
Manufacturing still in play
Walsh and Truong still plan to manufacture and market their own human neurons as an alternative to rodent neurons more widely used in testing drugs. Human neurons are better predictors of whether a particular treatment will work in humans, Walsh said. But the human variety are more expensive and aren’t in ready supply.
“The goal is to democratize the field, get everyone away from the rodent neurons and using human neurons,” Truong said.
Walsh believes that Anatomi can consolidate the neuron market, and that its rapid manufacturing process would afford a high margin.
“People use different neurons from different vendors,” Walsh said. “It’s kind of fragmented. If we can make human neurons price comparable to rodent neurons, why would you not use human neurons? That would break the stranglehold of the rodent neuron market on drug screening and that would benefit everyone in terms of being able to get to market more quickly.”