We are a team of matrix biologists, cancer scientists, toxicologists, and biomaterial engineers who have worked together to develop an innovative, animal-free solution for 3D cell culture.
We have done this with the support of the NC3Rs, BBSRC, and EPSRC. By combining the skills and expertise of individuals across a broad range of scientific backgrounds we are able to develop technologies that address a variety of unmet challenges in 3D in vitro modelling.
Our mission is to provide researchers a better way to model development and disease that is more reproducible, reliable, and ethical.
To learn more about our story so far, and to meet the team, read on below...
The Story So Far
With the support of the BBSRC, EPSRC, and NC3Rs, we have developed a short, self-assembling peptide hydrogel (SAPH) platform which is well-defined, has limited batch variability, has excellent handling properties, and contains no irrelevant animal-derived material. It can also be customised through a variety of available methods with matrix components selected to match specific tissue types. Critically, stiffness can also be tuned independently of composition, allowing the investigatation of the biological impact of matrix additions independently of tissue mechanics.
In 2022, following successful testing of the technology with partner labs across the globe and responding to increased requests to share the hydrogel technology, we realised the platform had reached the optimal point for commercialisation. To fully explore this potential, we applied for additional funding from the BBSRC to undertake the Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) accelerator programme. This funding allowed us to 'get out of the lab' and test our technology in the market to uncover its true commercial potential.
Following a successful customer discovery phase, we were one of the few teams invited to make an application to Innovate UK's ICURe Follow-on-fund. After a few weeks of nervous waiting, we were delighted to find out on 17th March that our application had been successful and we were awarded £270,690 in grant funding to allow us to expand our capacity and offering, as well as accelerate through our product development.
We are now in the process of developing a launch-line of products. Each of these will be designed to model a specific tissue type, both in terms of stiffness and composition (whilst remaining 100% animal-free).
Meet the Team
Our multi-disciplinary team is made up of matrix biologists, cancer scientists, toxicologists, biomaterials engineers, and experienced business professionals.
This allows us to respond to a variety of challenges, and also design hydrogel products which meet the complex and varied demmands of academic and industry research.
Co-Founder & CEO
Dr Johnathan Curd
John is an aspiring bioentrepreneur who recently completed a PhD in Biotechnology at the University of Nottingham. His PhD project focused on developing new methods for customising self-assembling peptide hydrogels, enabling the design of high fidelity in vitro models without requiring the use of animal-derived material. He has also attended various business training courses and workshops, in addition to leading a successful customer discovery phase during the ICURe programme.
Product Development Technologist
Dr Viola Erdelyi
Viola is a cancer research scientist who recently completed a PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of Nottingham. Her PhD project focused on testing and optimising new small molecule inhibitors for the treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia as well as building a 3D cell model to better understand the ADME properties of said inhibitors. She also has a background in working at start-ups and developing new businesses.
Dr Clive Roper
Clive is a consultant in vitro toxicologist who consults for both small and large companies with new and innovative technologies to help to develop their strategic business and scientific needs. His speciality disciplines are in (in vitro) dermal absorption and dermal toxicology, inhalation toxicology, and microphysiological systems. He is also a founder and board member of the NA3RsC and board member of the NC3Rs. He is also a European Registered Toxicologist (ERT), a charted Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and a member of ASCCT, ACTC, and ESTIV.
UoN Board Observer
Dr Jonathan Gibbons
Jonny is a Senior Licensing Executive within the University of Nottingham and leads the TTO’s Healthcare and Life Sciences Team. He has over 6 years’ experience in IP and licensing at both Nottingham and Imperial, working on a range of healthcare and life sciences projects, and has also worked in a healthcare-focused management consultancy. His PhD also focused on self-assembling peptides, giving him a unique blend of relevant scientific knowhow and IP exptertise.
Prof Neil R. Thomas
Neil is Professor of Medicinal & Biological Chemistry at the University of Nottingham, as well as a Deputy Director of the Biodiscovery Institute. He completed a PhD at the University of Southampton in mechanistic enzymology followed by a NATO/SERC postdoctoral fellowship at The Pennsylvania State University before holding faculty positions at the University of Bath and since 1995 at Nottingham. He has undertaken several sabbaticals at the Molecular Foundry, UC Berkeley . His research expertise is in the selective chemical and enzymatic modification of proteins.
Co-Founder & CSO
Prof Cathy Merry
Cathy currently leads the Stem Cell Glycobiology group at the University of Nottingham and has led multiple projects on optimising the hydrogel technology since moving to Nottingham in 2015. She is also a Deputy Director of the Biodiscovery Institute and interim director of Research and Knowledge Exchange in the School of Medicine. As a board member of the NC3Rs, she also has a long-standing interest in the promotion of non-animal methodologies.
Product Development Technologist
Dr Mikayla Shelton
Mikayla is a cancer research scientist who recently completed her PhD at Leeds Beckett University. Her PhD project focused on the bidirectional crosstalk between melanoma and cells of the tumour microenvironment via secretion of extracellular vesicles. This project involved study of a wide variety of cellular phenotypic and expression changes, as well as determination of cargo within the vesicles. She also has a background as a bioassay scientist in industry in a multitude of client projects.
Dr Kamal Badiani
Dr Kamal Badiani is the managing director of Pepceuticals, a specialist British manufacturer of synthetic peptides and the supplier of our self-assembling peptides. They remain dedicated to supplying the Life Science industry with high-quality custom peptides manufactured under cGMP, from milligram to kilogram quantities. Kamal has supported the development of the hydrogel technology by working closely with Prof Cathy Merry to develop specific methods for producing high-quality peptides for our application.
Dr Jennifer Ashworth
Jenny is an Anne McLaren research fellow at the University of Nottingham, working jointly between the Vet School and the School of Medicine. She completed her PhD in medical materials at the University of Cambridge, before moving to Nottingham as a postdoctoral research fellow, where she has since applied her materials science background to develop advanced materials for in vitro disease models. Her work developing the peptide hydrogel technology has also been recognised by a highly commended award from the International 3Rs Prize in 2020.