Peptide hydrogels; from seed funding to commercialisation

Scientists at the University of Manchester have co-founded a new company, PeptiGelDesign (www.peptigeldesign.com) based at the BioHub, Alderley Park, which is dedicated to the commercialisation of an innovative hydrogel technology developed at the University.

Work on the peptide based hydrogels started back in 2004 when Prof Aline Miller (School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical) and Dr. Alberto Saiani (School of Materials) were awarded a small seed fund of £4k from the University of Manchester. This prompted them to establish, within the University, the Polymers and Peptide Research Group (www.polymersandpeptides.co.uk), which is located at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB). They went onto build on this initial project by attracting over £6M in funding to the University from public and private bodies over the past 10 years. This has led to the development of a technological platform for the design of peptide based hydrogels, which are now being applied in biomedical and biotechnological fields in areas such as tissue engineering, drug delivery and DNA sensing.

The technology is based on understanding and controlling the self-assembly of small peptides across the length scales to permit the design of bespoke hydrogel materials. Professor Julie Gough (School of Materials) became involved in the early stage development of these materials for cell culture and tissue engineering applications and she said “This highly innovative technology actually works! It allows the design of materials that can be tailored to mimic the 3-dimensional micro-environment in which we culture cells. Cells have very different requirements depending on their origin, nature and function and this technology allows the design of hydrogels with properties and functionality tailored to each cell type. This opens up new possibilities in cell culture and tissue engineering fields.”

Prof Aline Miller who led the original seed project said “This is a true UoM success story. We started over 10 years ago with a fundamental science project for which we were awarded a small pot of internal faculty money to do proof-of-concept work and here we are 10 years later co-founding a company to sell the novel materials we developed”.

Dr. Guillaume St-Pierre who is the full-time CEO of PetiGelDesign said “It is a unique experience to be able to take a novel technology from academia to industry. This is a great technology raising significant interest wherever I go. One of the most exiting aspects is that it is an enabling technology, allowing scientists in academia and industry to do novel research using a platform of innovative materials that can be tailored to their needs, whether it is defined 3D functional scaffolds for cell culture, tissue engineering and tissue model generation or injectable and sprayable hydrogels for the in-vivo delivery of stem cells and/or drugs. The commercialisation of the materials will hopefully allow us to unlock their full potential by making them widely available to scientists across the world”.

Dr. Alberto Saiani currently holds a Healthcare Technology Fellowship from the EPSRC which focusses on developing this technology further. He said “This has been an astonishing journey through which we have moved from fundamental material science to process development to create a commercial product, thus showing the value that research can create and the importance of University seed funds. On our way we collaborated, and are still collaborating, with a number of great scientists across the University. We are now working closely with PeptiGelDesign, UMIP (University of Manchester Intellectual Property) and the University to develop the next generation of materials.”

In addition to the hydrogel technology PeptiGelDesign is also working on bringing to market an innovative cardiac patch medical device which was developed through a collaboration between the University and a number of other European institutions.

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