By Kristy Dorsey

A Scottish medical start-up has partnered with a Swedish firm as it moves towards its goal of accelerating research into brain tumours and breast cancer.

Edinburgh-based Carcinotech is closing in on a six-figure funding round following the tie-up with Stockholm-listed Cellink, which claims to be the world’s first bio-ink company. Drawing on Cellink’s expertise in biomaterials that allow cells to grow as they would naturally, Carcinotech will use its technology to create 3D cancer models using patients’ own stem cells.

Working in this way, Carcinotech says it can create a cancer environment with 95 per cent accuracy. As well as providing an alternative to animal testing, this also has “hugely positive repercussions” for drug testing and discovery, and offers a means of testing personalised medicines.

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Ishani Malhotra set up Carcinotech in 2018 based on her master’s degree work in regenerative medicine at the University of Edinburgh. She said the company’s goal is to have a validated set of brain tumour and breast tumour models by the end of next year that can be used by researchers to combat the disease.

“I established the company because I wanted to make a significant contribution towards enabling the identification of effective treatments for cancer,” she said.

“Working with Cellink is really exciting as their knowledge and experience will be instrumental in enabling us to fulfil this aim. Ultimately, we want to use our knowledge, and our partner’s, to help save lives.”

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With a full-time team of three people, Carcinotech has been funded to date by grant awards from Scottish Enterprise and various business competitions worth a total of nearly £100,000. It is now aiming to complete a six-figure pre-seed round of angel investment within the next month.

Ms Malhotra said the firm will then embark on a further round of fundraising in preparation for the company moving into commercialisation at the beginning of 2022. Carcinotech is also pursuing grant opportunities with Innovate UK, part of the Government’s Research and Innovation agency.

The company’s product is a cancer cell environment on a micro-sized chip that can test more than 90 drugs at one time. It can be made for any cancer type from either human or animal cell lines.

One of the biggest challenges in cancer drug testing and treatment is the failure rate in pre-clinical trials, with 85% failing to reach the market due to a lack of good research and testing models. In addition to the controversy around animal testing, which is regularly used, animal models are not a good representation of the human system.

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Itedale Namro Redwan, chief scientific officer at Cellink, also welcomed the new tie-up: “It is an honour to announce this partnership with Carcinotech. This collaboration will extend the pharmaceutical development segment for Cellink and advance the tools used for future cancer drug development processes.”

Carcinotech is based at the Roslin Innovation Centre on the outskirts of Edinburgh, which is home to nearly two dozen firms working in the fields of animal science, agricultural technology and “one health” – the collaboration of multiple disciplines to obtain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.

Among those tenants is Deep Science Ventures, which earlier this year teamed up with Edinburgh University’s renowned Roslin Institute to launch the Food & Agricultural Science Transformer (FAST) programme. The partnership will provide up to £500,000 of funding to support the development of new businesses with the potential to help tackle key challenges faced by farmers, the public and the planet’s ecosystems.