Hubrecht Organoid Technology (HUB) was founded by the Hubrecht Institute, the University Medical Center Utrecht, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). Their ground-breaking Organoid Technology is making waves in Biotech and Pharma. CEO Robert Vries tells us about the company’s milestones and ambitions.
After receiving his PhD in Biochemistry at Leiden University, Robert Vries took on a Postdoc position at Stanford University. When he returned to The Netherlands, he joined the research group lead by pioneering stem cell biologist Hans Clevers.
This group created the ground-breaking organoids that are causing a paradigm shift in medical research and drug development. To further develop their HUB Organoid Technology, Hubrecht Organoid Technology (HUB) was established in 2013, with Robert as CEO.
“Over the last 6 years, we have grown into a company of 60 dedicated people working internationally,” says Robert. “We want to make our HUB Organoid Technology widely available to both the academic world and the industry, in order for it to further develop.”
“An important application for it is found in drug testing. It will not be necessary to use animals in the lab anymore. Another difficulty also belongs to the past. The problem with models consisting of human cells used to be that they adjust to the lab’s conditions and don’t represent the real situation anymore. Our aim was to develop a better model, based on Hans Clevers’ stem cell research.”
Every organ, every bit of tissue has stem cells for it to heal and renew. They help you age healthily. In 2007, research by Hans Clevers and others identified and located intestinal stem cells. It was world news. “We then wanted to test these cells in the lab without having them adjust to the circumstances. We found a method to keep the cells in a constant state. After we had found the method, the cells appeared to group in a structure that resembled that of the organ. Hence the name ‘organoid’.”
“We tried treating the cells with the drug that is also given to patients. It worked: patient-derived organoids responded in the same way patients did. That’s why we also call it ‘a patient in the lab’. This finding strengthened the purpose of our organization.”
“This can fundamentally change the way
drugs are developed.”
In 2014, the first patient who was succesfully treated thanks to organoids appeared on Dutch national television to tell their story. The technology has taken flight internationally since then. HUB has taken on a range of collaborations with companies in Biotech and Pharma.
HUB’s main ambitions are twofold. “On the one hand, we want to work with the industry to do research and produce new drugs,” Robert says. “Together, we can fundamentally change the way drugs are developed. Producing medicine is expensive, so it has to happen efficiently. HUB Organoid Technology can enable just that, while also lowering the failure rate.”
“On the other hand, we want to do clinical research to see how diseases can be prevented. We already found a predictive effect in oncology. Studies from ICR London and Shanghai University have shown that the predictability is high for colon cancer. Together with the UMC Utrecht, we discovered it also works well for cystic fibrosis. These are huge milestones to us. In addition, we have established a co-culture system with organoids and immune cells, so we can study and gain more insights about inflammatory diseases like COPD or Crohn’s Disease.”
Besides collaborations across Europe and America, HUB can also be found in Japan. “We are collaborating with Yamaha Motor to further improve our predictive tests. And we have worked with Japanese specialists before. Toshiro Sato is a co-inventor of the organoids. He also co-authored the first research publications about them. In 2011, he returned to Japan and now leads his own research group.”
“Japan is a leading country when it comes to stem cell research,” Robert adds. “One of the most well-known researchers is Dr. Yamanaka, who received the Nobel Prize in 2012 for his revolutionary studies on turning mature cells into stem cells.”
“What I like about working with Japanese partners is that they appreciate strong personal relationships, and that they have an eye for quality. We have noticed this in our work with Yamaha. It goes together well with our organization.”