Canadian startup MOC Biotechnologies revolutionizes drug discovery through bioprinting

Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Co-founders Ali Mousavi (right) and Arash Helmi (left). Credit: MOC BIotechnologies

Canadian startup MOC Biotechnologies has recently made its way into the Canadian finals of the Entrepreneurship World Cup. Founded in 2019, the startup develops a Magical Organ Cloner (MOC) system that can print materials such as hydrogels, polymers, liquid composite, drugs and special cell medium.

MOC Biotechnologie offers a hybrid bioprinting platform that enables 4D hybrid bioprinting to replicate human tissues at a cellular level. According to Ali Mousavi, CEO and co-founder, the company's technology is especially suitable for the development of cancer research and drug discovery, especially when 90% of relevant drug development failures can be attributed to outdated preclinical research methods, including 2D cell culture and animal testing. Compared to 2D methods, 4D bioprinting can bring several advantages such as more natural cell interactions, dynamic tissue structures and more results.

For companies in the pharmaceutical technology sector, especially bioprinting pioneer like MOC Biotechnologies, the FDA Modernization Act 2.0 passed in September 2022 can be seen as a golden time, said Mousavi, as it eliminated a mandate for animal testing during drug development, accelerating the need for bioprinting technology.

Ultimately, the technology can create highly customized human tissues based on data obtained from a patient's Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Using AI, the company can conduct the 3D segmentation and classification of different organs, facilitating the printing of different layers in tissues, according to Mousavi.

The startup, in addition, also takes advantage of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) development. "All of the experimental parameters that can be set inside the bioprinter can be connected, adjusted and monitored with the tablets or applications through the website," said Mousavi, indicating that IoT technology allows one to monitor and control all the parameters during the bioprinting process outside the laboratory. Notably, the parameters and the bioprinter's inputs and outputs will be on the company's app, Mousavi indicated, pointing to the complementary smart software developed by MOC Biotechnologies.

Currently, the company's hardware and software products are being tested and validated in the universities and research centers partnering with MOC Biotechnologies. In 2024, the company will seek to launch its products, including the 4D hybrid bioprinter, the associated software and customized bioinks, into the market. Citing a report from Precedence Research showing that the global oncology cancer drugs market will grow from US$148 billion in 2021 to US$288 billion in 2030 with a CAGR of 7.7%, Mousavi sees the vast potential of his startup.

In addition to a purchase-based revenue model, MOC Biotechnologies also provides services. For those who don't wish to buy the bioprinter, they can provide the MRI data of the patients, and MOC Biotechnologies will print and clone the material needed. Eventually, as company founder Mousavi put it, the startup's exit strategy is to be acquired by a big pharma company. "Basically, they will acquire companies like us, and use our technologies for their research," said Mousavi, indicating that many companies like MOC Biotechnologies share such an exit strategy.

A serial entrepreneur, Mousavi indicated that MOC Biotechnologies is primarily funded through personal investment from him and other founding partners, in addition to research grants coming from governmental organizations such as National Research Council Canada, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), and Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA). Apart from the government, MOC Biotechnologies is also backed by venture capital firms such as Innovacorp and Volta - both based in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia where MOC Biotechnologies is headquartered.

Notably, through Volta's partnership with Microsoft Azure, MOC Biotechnologies has also been on the radar of major cloud service providers who have been exploring AI's applications in biomedicine and healthcare, and Mousavi sees the potential of deeper cooperation with them in the future.

Despite the company's initial focus on the North American market, the market in East Asia, especially China, is also on the roadmap of MOC Biotechnologies. At this stage though, the Canadian startup's strategic focus on East Asia is also driven by supply chain concerns, given the region's outsize role in the global electronics supply chain.

In the aftermath of the semiconductor supply chain issue that shook the global technology industry between 2020-21, Mousavi noted that it was a big challenge facing all medical device companies in North America, pointing especially to the soaring prices of microcontrollers.

With that in mind, MOC Biotechnologies is aiming to broaden its production base in Taiwan, especially the manufacturing and assembly of the electronic components needed by the company's product. Mousavi especially emphasized the need to have a stable supply of microcontrollers from Taiwan, highlighting the difficulties encountered when manufacturers prefer mass production instead of small-volume production of customized products.