HAMBURG, Germany - Medigene AG in-licensed a novel technology called "in-vitro-heart" to expand and accelerate its target validation platform. The technology enables researchers to evaluate drug activity and modes of action and the biological role of genes in a life-like situation.

The in vitro heart was invented by pharmacologist and cardiologist Thomas Eschenhagen, of Friedrich Alexander University, of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. Under the terms of the agreement, Eschenhagen will transfer all patent rights to Medigene exclusively. In return, he will receive up-front payments and license fees. Eschenhagen will assist Medigene, of Martinsried, as a scientific adviser and will collaborate in the further development of the technology. Financial details were not disclosed.

In the technology, myocardiocytes from rat embryos or mouse embryonic stem cells are grown on a 3-dimensional matrix. "This matrix enhances the natural contacts between the cells so that they grow in an environment very much like a live tissue," Hsialoi Chen, technology transfer and licensing expert of Medigene, told BioWorld International. The ring-like matrix is made from elastic material so that it can be stretched continuously by a small automated device. "That way, muscle cells can build up and maintain a contractile apparatus reflecting a healthy physiological environment."

She said the device could be used to grow tissue with beating heart cells so that the stretching device would force the cells to mimic the situation in a stressed heart.

Results were almost as valuable as those from animal studies, she said. "The technology really bridges a gap between cell and animal models, and studies using the in vitro heart are much faster and cheaper than animal trials."

The tissue can be used to measure the effects of different stimuli on the beat rate. "This is but one application," Chen said. "We can also insert genes we want to validate into any type of heart cells and test their influence on the physiology and performance."

The technology also is useful in assaying the effects of new compounds on cells. "Together with Thomas Eschenhagen and his group we are trying to miniaturize the device, so that it can be used in 48- or 96-well microtiter plates for screening assays."

The technology is expected to solve bottleneck problems in Medigene's target validation process. In the cardiac disease area, Medigene is focusing on the identification, analysis and validation of targets in diseased hearts.

As of April 1 the company employed a staff of 77, and had raised US$20M. By the end of this year Medigene plans to expand to a staff of 100, to establish a U.S. presence, and to initiate two clinical trials. Apart from cardiac diseases, Medigene focuses on the development of novel therapies against cancers.