University of Dundee

University spinout provides compelling alternative to animal testing

25 Sep 2020

Researchers at the University of Dundee are looking to transform pharmaceutical and cosmetics testing with their spinout venture that offers an alternative for many experiments currently only performed in animals. Ten Bio Ltd grew within the University’s School of Life Sciences, where founders Dr Robyn Hickerson and Dr Michael Conneely were initially developing explant skin models to enable their drug discovery programmes.

After years of progress, the company founders have successfully created a patented, human skin culture system that closely mimics intact, living skin. They have secured funding from the Scottish Enterprise Early Stage COVID Pre-Seed Fund and have recently signed a contract with a global cosmetics company. Dr Hickerson was last night named runner-up in the Converge Challenge category of Converge 2020, receiving £29,000 in cash and in-kind business support. Converge is a company creation programme designed for staff, students and recent graduates across all Scottish universities. Ten Bio Ltd has also reached the finals in this year’s Scottish EDGE competition.

Pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies test their products rigorously before they are administered to humans. Currently there is an unmet need for technologies that will generate reliable safety and efficacy data. Ten Bio has developed a product, branded ‘TenSkin™’, where human skin is stretched to an optimal tension to mimic the mechanobiology that exists in intact, living skin on the body. This provides a state-of-the-art tool for skin biology research and pharmaceutical and cosmetics testing.

“The skin that covers our body is under tension, this has been known for a long time,” said Dr Conneely. “Other models don’t incorporate this tension, and this is why our product is more effective. When skin is removed from the body it contracts as the tension relaxes. By stretching the skin to an optimal tension, we have created a model that will allow pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies to generate pre-clinical data that will be much more predictive of what is likely to be seen in the clinic.”

Although there is a complete ban on testing cosmetics and cosmetics’ ingredients in animals in the EU, with many global cosmetics companies adhering to similar guidelines, animal experimentation is still the gold standard within the pharmaceutical field to help explore whether potential drugs are suitable for testing in humans. Animal testing is often a subject of ethical controversy, with many raising concerns about the reliability of the method. Ten Bio’s new approach aims to significantly reduce animal usage for skin related research.

Dr Hickerson said, “There is a disconnect between animals and humans when you’re trying to develop therapeutics. While animals can serve as good analogues to study general principles, they often fail when it comes to specific details due to animal/human species differences. These details matter when it comes to developing safe and effective drugs for humans. Upwards of 90% of drugs that are proven safe and effective in animals fail during clinical trials. Our model will help reduce this costly failure rate.”

The company has its origins in work Drs Hickerson and Conneely carried out within the research group of Professor Irwin McLean. Commercial strategy expert Ken Fyvie has joined Ten Bio Ltd as chairman.