Karolina Valente and the VoxCell she founded KellyOnTech Entrepreneurial Story Series
At the beginning of 2022, I will continue to introduce the entrepreneurial stories of my old and new friends in the technology circle, hoping to inspire you through their entrepreneurial stories. Before I introduce today’s entrepreneur, let’s talk about the global drug development situation.
Global drug development market status
The global market for new drug R&D is worth $70 billion in 2020 and is expected to rise to $110 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 10%. The market outlook is good, so let me ask you, what is the failure rate of drug R&D globally in the first place?
The failure rate of drug development reached 95%. The failure rate for new drug development for certain types of cancer is even higher at 97%. Why is this so? One of the reasons is that in order to achieve good results, in the pre-clinical testing stage, it is necessary to simulate the living environment of cancer cells as much as possible, such as specific genes, proteins or tissues. The existing models used in preclinical testing cannot simulate the real situation well.
Is there any way to improve the success rate of new drug development?
The models currently used in preclinical in vitro testing are cell monolayers (lacking a 3D environment), spheroids (lacking a vascular system and scaffolding) or organoids (lacking a vascular system and complexity).
Here’s where 3D printing comes of great value. I have created a video about the 3D printing industries that have developed rapidly after the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are interested, you can check it out.
3D bioprinting can produce true biomimetic tissue models, vascular systems and bioinks that simulate the cancer environment, providing researchers with a better platform for in vitro testing and improving the success rate of new drug development.
VoxCell BioInnovation Introduction
VoxCell is a tissue engineering company that 3D bioprints human-like cancer tissue models for reliable preclinical testing.
VoxCell provides a true biomimetic solution with obvious advantages.
1. Ultra-high resolution: VoxCell’s 3D bio-printer has an ultra-high resolution of 500 nanometers, which is 200 times higher than a general 3D bioprinter. Thanks to the 2-photon polymerization technology (2PP), detailed blood vessels can be created. Their name “VoxCell” comes from this technology, where the focal point of the laser is called “Voxel”.
2. Physiologically relevant vascular systems: VoxCell’s leading patented software algorithms can generate blood vessels and capillary networks in any defined structure, programmed according to real physiological related factors, allowing tissue models to be created as close to life as possible.
3. Integrated easy to use software: The vascularization software will be fully integrated with VoxCell’s 3D bioprinters and keeps a trade secret. Its software is very easy to use and does not require a professional trained in CAD and 3D drafting. It has predefined models so the user can select a model and print it with just one click. VoxCell also offers the option to fully customise and change specific parameters to generate personalised vascular tissue models.
4. Perfusable tissue models (as a service): VoxCell can deliver the vascularized tissue models directly to the users. Thanks to their high resolution, angiogenesis software, and proprietary bioinks that mimic the cancer environment, tissues created with their technology are very suitable for small research institutions or projects that do not require the purchase of a 3D bioprinter. VoxCell will provide tissue models as a service and be equipped with sterile equipment to infuse the tissue with any drug being tested, allowing researchers to see how the therapy interacts with the 3D cancer environment interactions, truly mimicking the systemic drug delivery in clinical trials.
5. VoxCell is one of the few companies in the market that can create personalized tissues for individual patients. With the patient’s cancer cells, bio-ink, and individual blood vessel images (from angiography), VoxCell can replicate the tumour environment and the surrounding healthy environment to better determine the best treatment plan for the individual.
VoxCell Founder — Karolina Valente
Having said so much, let me introduce Karolina Valente, the founder and CEO of VoxCell. Karolina holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Victoria. After graduation, she stayed on to teach at the University, as an Assistant Teaching Professor. She founded VoxCell in 2020.
University professors starting a business as CEOs are actually very often underappreciated. Investors will question whether they understand the market, business operation, etc. But what I learned about Karolina is that she is a warrior woman who is good at seizing every opportunity to promote VoxCell and integrate resources. I was a judge in several startup competitions, and I was impressed by Karolina. Compared to other founders, she is very introverted and reserved, but you can feel her great enthusiasm for VoxCell and her mission to help cancer drug development from her presentation.
Although the path of entrepreneurship is very difficult, especially in the field of new drug development, Karolina has never complained, in her dictionary she only finds problems and finds ways to solve them. She upholds the belief of medical professionals, that is, “if there is 1% hope, we should try 100%.”
I am grateful to have met such outstanding entrepreneurs as Karolina with courage and inner strength. They have given me the determination and motivation to ride the waves.
Karolina specially recorded a video, here is the video script:
My name is Dr. Karolina Valente and I am the CEO of VoxCell. And what we are doing at VoxCell is: we are creating human-like cancer tissue models for reliable pre-clinical testing.
VoxCell came as an idea when I was doing my PhD and I wanted to find a better way to mimic breast cancer tissue. And with all the bioprinting tools available to me, I could not make a tissue that was truly human-like. Then I had this idea to make my own printer and I started executing that. When I saw that was possible, I incorporated the company. The company was incorporated in August last year, one week before my PhD defense. Although it was a very stressful time, it was also very rewarding. Throughout this journey, I have learned a lot. Going towards human-like cancer tissue models with breast cancer as our first product has been mostly due to a personal story: with my mom having had breast cancer when I was a kid, that also inspired me to study breast cancer during my PhD and now to start with this first tissue model for reliable drug testing.
Throughout this journey, I have met a lot of very interesting people that have been helping me to grow VoxCell considerably. But the most rewarding part of this journey has definitely been seeing my team grow as individuals but also as part of the team. Seeing those amazing people that have been working together with me throughout this journey to grow so much and learn those skills for life: that has been the most rewarding part of the journey.”