Biomedical engineering, the next frontier for women’s health and beyond
Swiss-based biotech start-up, MUVON Therapeutics, is bringing cutting-edge cell therapy research to life for the regeneration of skeletal muscle tissue.
Modern-day technologies are still hard to believe sometimes. Today’s most creative innovations seem to be coming out of science fiction novels, yet they are or about to become part of our reality. Thanks to awe-inspiring research, we could solve some of the most challenging problems, and their solutions have often been found right around (or even within) us.
That is the case for MUVON Therapeutics, award winning start-up spin-off from the University of Zurich and part of the Tech4Eva accelerator program, whose potential could disrupt the whole field of skeletal muscle tissue regeneration within the health sector.
From fundamental research to real innovation
Founded in October 2020 and following over a decade of research, the biotech start-up proposes muscle bioengineering as a treatment option to restore irreversibly damaged skeletal muscle tissues, that is through minimally invasive autologous cell therapy. In simpler words, the start-up researchers have come up with a way to use the patient’s own muscle cells to regenerate the damaged muscle tissue. How exactly do they do that?
BIOPSY: Firstly, they obtain a small muscle biopsy from the patient under local anaesthesia.
EXPANSION: From this tissue, they isolate the muscle stem cells and activate them under strictly monitored conditions, so that they start proliferating into MPCs - muscle precursor cells (satellite cells capable of muscle fiber reconstruction).
INJECTION: thereby, the final product is injected into the damaged muscle of the patient.
REGENERATION: the injected cells form new muscle fibers and connect with existing muscle tissue leading to the muscle’s regeneration, which is further supported by electromagnetic stimulation.
After winning different prizes and securing the Horizon2020 6 mil-worth grant in 2016, MUVON’s team could translate the science to the patients, starting the Phase I clinical trial which is now about to be finalised.
The potential of MUVON Therapeutics’ proprietary process is enormous. “Our cell therapy has various application fields” explains Deana Mohr, CEO of the Zurich-based start-up and one of the ten Venture Leaders in MedTech “Tissue engineering still presents some limitations in the size of tissue that can be regenerated, due to lacking vascularisation, innervation, etc. Therefore, for the moment, we concentrate our efforts in restoring functionality in small muscles of the human body. But as science is constantly progressing, we are also building up the innovation team in MUVON to tackle such limitations and offer flexible solutions for bigger damages.”
Changing the life of over 200 million people worldwide
Being able to restore small muscles is no small feat, though. MUVON Therapeutics’ findings could already positively impact a large part of the worldwide population. The start-up first application area is stress urinary incontinence (SUI), often caused by a malfunctioning urinary sphincter muscle.
SUI is an under-diagnosed, yet highly present disease that consists of an involuntary leakage of urine caused by physical exertion or even simply by coughing or sneezing. It is the predominant subtype of urinary incontinence, which affects over 400 million people worldwide. Deana points out that “the [urinary sphincter] muscle is easily accessible, offering application of a minimally invasive approach, and SUI alone is a disease that is affecting over 200 million people worldwide. It would be tremendous if we could change for good the life of every 4th woman after childbirth, right?”.
This inability affects both sexes (men are often affected after prostate surgery), but women are generally affected twice as much. Indeed, one in 4 women above the age of 18 experience episodes of involuntary urine leakage and an estimated 30-60% of women above the age of 40 are suffering from stress urinary incontinence. (1) A study also shows that 30% of women suffer from SUI after their first vaginal delivery. (2)
Evidently, such condition severely impacts people on physical, psychological, social, and financial levels, representing an impediment to daily activities, a cost (not covered by health insurance plans in some countries) and causing personal embarrassment if not even depression. (3)
All existing treatment options have drawbacks that range from low and short-term efficacy (for conservative treatments) to potentially serious adverse events associated either with invasiveness or the introduction of foreign material (for more potent surgical approaches). Due to this limited efficacy or potentially severe complications, only around 8% of affected women actively seek treatment, usually after choosing to live with significant symptoms and the associated limitations for years before seeking help. (4)
Supported by Wyss Zürich, a joint accelerator of the UZH and ETH, MUVON Therapeutics wants to represent the answer to all these people, offering personalised therapeutic solution with low-risk and minimally invasive treatment for the patients in need, without even complicating later childbirth.
A start-up designed to scale
Looking back at their substantial research, the team has made remarkable progress in the field of tissue engineering. For Deana, the project started almost 10 years ago, when she found her passion for cell therapies. “I still remember the first time I looked under the microscope and saw the bio-engineered muscles twitching. A real magic.” Starting the Phase I clinical trials, she had the honour of meeting her first business partner and MUVON co-founder, Dr. Jenny Prange. “And then, 3 years ago, during a hot summer, my entrepreneurial spirit was lit at the BEI course of UZH by Elke Zappe. This is where I met my second co-founder, Dr. Steve Kappenthuler, and where we won our first pitch prize… from that moment onward, I knew we could make it work!” she recalls.
The team is now preparing for the kick-off of Phase 2 clinical trial and is currently looking for investors and partners, fundraising their Series A for the scale-up strategy bringing in automation in the process and developing their further pipeline indications towards first-in-man trials. As part of theTech4Eva community, the team could also discover different markets and investment opportunities. Deana continues “It is a great feeling to see so many innovative ideas on the way in the FemTech field. The brainstorming sessions with the coaches are very exciting and we could translate several of the“take-home” messages already in the business plan for MUVON.”
The start-up will attend the third Tech4Eva Roadshow, taking place in London on September 22nd. If you want to hear the start-up pitching, you can register to the event here.