Cambridge-based BiologIC, producer of the world’s first biocomputer, is marking a massive leap in its material understanding which will ultimately lead to faster time-to-market and cheaper drugs and vaccines – thanks to funding from Analysis for Innovators (A4I), a grant funding programme run by Innovate UK, the UK's innovation agency.
BiologIC’s pioneering 3D printed ‘lab-on-a-chip’ platforms are miniaturised devices that integrate multiple laboratory functions onto a single chip. These enable faster, more efficient, and cost-effective analysis of biological samples, with applications ranging from drug testing to point-of-care diagnostics.
Dr Colin Barker, Chief Scientific Officer at BiologIC Technologies, said: “By the nature of them being 3D printable materials, they’re very reactive. And so, part of Biologic’s proprietary know-how is how to take those materials and treat them to make them biocompatible. But that’s a very complex, very slow process.”
The problem lies in the fact that plastic materials used in 3D printing the chips often do not interact well in biological applications. While Barker admits the company is already doing things with materials that many in the scientific community say can’t be done, BiologIC’s work was being stymied by lack of funds to explore the boundaries of material properties.
Now, thanks to the A4I grant, the futuristic company has been able to access the expertise of the National Measurement Laboratory hosted at LGC (NML) and its advanced equipment to better understand the behaviour at the surface of those 3D printable plastics and their formulation.
The grant funded work at NML has enabled BiologIC to demonstrate that the approach it uses to make its systems bio-compatible works and is stable.
Barker said: “Without access to the high-end analytics, and, more critically, the world class expertise at NML made possible through the A4I funding, it would likely have taken us several years to achieve the same insights.
“We’ve already taken the learning we’ve gained from the grant and applied it in real time. We have several active projects, where we have directly applied our new knowledge to improve customer outcomes. This grant directly led to an increase in our understanding, which has had an immediate impact, and greater commercial success.”
Proof of greater biocompatibility and stability of the ‘lab-on-a-chip’ means pharmaceutical manufacturers and Contract, Design and Manufacturing Organisations (CDMOs) can now speed up the work needed before developing minimum viable products.
3D printed materials, without any post-processing, simply do not support reproducible biology. For BiologIC to support its customers in developing and manufacturing high-quality biological products, it had to first understand the chemical interactions between the 3D printed materials and biological samples. The pioneering technology company – which has been taking products to market since 2020 – did not have the funds or specific expertise required for full investigation of these interactions.
“Our customers are trying to produce advanced biology products at scale with robust reproducibility. The greater understanding of our materials through the A4I grant allows us to standardise and streamline our production methodologies, delivering reproducible results at a lower cost.
“Personalised medicines by their nature don’t have economies of scale, and price tags can run into millions of pounds per patient. The BiologIC platform provides the paradigm shift in automation technologies required to enable disruptive economics and democratise access to these new therapies.” Adds Barker.
The BiologIC platform is already generating value for advanced developers at customer sites. The BiologIC team works closely with customers to create custom configurations of its platform, addressing customer challenges including increasing yield, process robustness and scale.
Analysis for Innovators (A4I), run by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, helps businesses access cutting-edge R&D and expertise of skills and equipment at nine national measurement centres across the country. The grant funding is also extended to all or some of the project costs.
Simon Yarwood, Knowledge Transfer Manager – Industrial Technologies, A4I at Innovate UK KTN, said: “The transformation of BiologIC is yet another success story generated by A4I. It is an effective demonstration of how we empower companies to boost their productivity and their competitiveness by solving difficult technical analysis-type problems that maybe they’ve been battling with for some time.
“And we introduce them to some unique partner organisations, like NML, who have world class skills and unique facilities. That allows them to look at problems in a new way, and then help solve them.”
A4I has been running since 2016 and brings together nine national centres of excellence in measurement, tackling challenges affecting existing processes, products or services. Across nine rounds of funding, it has supported over 250 companies resulting in over £600M of benefit for those businesses, such as increased productivity and turnover, reduced waste, and the creation of new and upskilled jobs.
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