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Innovation Space lands promising Australian biotech firm

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Inventia Life Sciences’ American workforce is already starting to grow, including (L-R) Roger Malerba, associate manager of business development and operations; Whitney Symons, customer success manager; Diane Filo, sales consultant; and Dwayne Dexter, director of U.S. operations and sales. They are posing next to a pink Rastrum unit. | PHOTO COURTESY OF INVENTIA LIFE SCIENCES

WILMINGTON – Inventia Life Science, a promising Australian biotechnology company, has opened its first U.S. office and facility in Delaware, leasing space at the Delaware Innovation Space on the DuPont Experimental Station campus.

The 9-year-old firm invented the Rastrum, a machine that can essentially 3D print cell cultures that drug and therapy researchers can utilize in drug trials for more useful and accurate findings.

Headquartered in Sydney and founded by four researchers, Inventia has already attracted significant interest, winning the 2020 World Changing Ideas Award for experimental science from the magazine Fast Company. Eying a move into the American market, it raised $25 million in a Series B fundraising round last year and also hired Dwayne Dexter, a veteran biotech sales executive, to serve as its U.S. sales and operations director.

The Rastrum, which uses proprietary “bioinks” to enable clients to grow their desired, multi-layer cultures quickly, allows researchers to eliminate ineffective drugs before they enter more costly clinical trials. It could help save hundreds of millions of dollars in future drug discovery costs and potentially years of discovery time, as 90% of drug trials in humans fail despite looking promising in the lab.

“We really have engineered it to allow drug discovery to print micro-tissues, or printing into a small well, so that the drug discoverers can treat them with drugs, antibodies, CAR T-cell therapy, etc., and doing it in a way that allows them to do a lot of replicates at the same time,” Dexter told Delaware Business Times.

While biopharmaceutical researchers have long used cell cultures to test drug or therapy candidates, they lacked the differentiated cells that bodies would have in connection with targeted ones. The Rastrum allows researchers to build a matrix of cells atop each other to replicate how they would interact in our bodies.

“The matrix really can influence the micro-environment that cells are in, and this is one key component that most drug discovery programs haven’t included in the past,” Dexter added.

The technology has already reportedly found adopters as four of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies have started utilizing the Rastrum in their discovery work, according to Inventia.

The Delaware Innovation Space at the DuPont Experimental Station. | DBT PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN

Where the company would put down its first American roots was not a sure thing though. Dexter said he investigated several hot biotech markets, including Philadelphia, San Diego and Texas, before he visited the Innovation Space – where they instantly fell in love with the facility and team.

“Unlike some of the other biotech incubator spaces, the Innovation Space team has just done a great job of really having a lot of facilities and administration support for their clients. And I just really didn’t get that feeling from some of the other places that I visited,” he said.

Located between the Baltimore-D.C. and Philadelphia region will also allow Inventia to tap into a large talent pool, Dexter said. The firm will use its Delaware space as part demo lab, part training and maintenance shop, and part proof-of-concept test bed, and will hire a handful of cell biologists, engineers and more to advance its research and sales.

Bill Provine, president and CEO of the Innovation Space, the 5-year-old public-private sciences incubator, told DBT that he was excited to welcome the Australian company to Delaware.

“We’re looking for knowledge-intensive, science-intensive companies that scale pretty aggressively but as they work to cure cancers and other diseases,” he said. “Inventia looked all over and saw us as offering the right laboratories, the right talent, the right geography, and the right access to customers for their U.S. subsidiaries, so we’re pretty psyched to have them as part of our community.”

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