ACEA Biosciences Introduces "Fail it Fast" Assay Technology

New xCELLigence RTCA CardioECR is the first platform for simultaneous measurement of Cardiomyocyte Contractility and Electrophysiology

By Steven E. Kuehn, editor-in-chief

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Responding to the need for more predictive preclinical assays for cardiac liability, ACEA Biosciences introduced a “ground-breaking” device the company describes as “next generation.” Designated the xCELLigence RTCA CardioECR System, it is building on the success of its impedance-only RTCA Cardio System, ACEA says. Combining impedance and field potential recording technology with a pacing function, the RTCA CardioECR system is said to be the first platform to allow simultaneous cardiomyocyte contractility and field potential measurement in one assay.

With the added field potential measurement and pacing stimuli, ACEA’s system allows for a deeper, faster assessment of cardiac toxicity mechanisms. According to ACEA, the field-potential electrode technology provides a measure of the integrated ion channel activity in cardiomyocytes that may be impacted by the tested compound. Meanwhile, the pacing function allows for controlling the rate of contractility “for a more controlled assay,” says ACEA. The system’s combined dual readout system also delivers a longer-term measurement of cardiomyocyte viability — something that has the potential to identify compounds that can cause longer-term structural damage to cardiomyocytes. With its ability to accelerate cardiomyocyte evaluation across multiple compounds by orders of magnitude, the platform introduces distinct “Fail-it-Fast” innovation to R&D operations.

Yama Abassi, ACEA Biosciences’ vice president of global operations agrees: “There has been a push by the pharmaceutical industry over the last few years to pursue a ‘fail early, fail cheap’ strategy. The earlier that one can eliminate a compound that may have potential [negative] side effects, the better it is. I think it’s obviously the earlier one can kill a compound with some potential toxicities, the better.”

That concept, says Abassi, is the model now “but the most important thing about it is that you want to have a very predictive assay. The danger is that you don’t want to kill good compounds. But if your assay is not predictive enough, the likelihood that you will eliminate some really good beneficial compounds is also very high. That’s the dangerous side of the ‘fail fast, fail cheap’ mentality. It’s really important for the pharma industry to use highly, highly predictive assays that are really reflective of the human condition. For example, if they’re using cells, it has to be very relevant cell types. In this case, once again, we are using human stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. I just cannot see this type of assay being done even five years ago. Five years ago these technologies were not available.”

Founded in 2002, ACEA Biosciences has been developing and commercializing cell analysis platforms for life science research. According to ACEA, researchers are continuing to advance their studies via the 1,300-plus instruments the company has sold for a broad range of diverse applications. According to Abassi, the technology has been cited in more than 600 peer-reviewed publications. ACEA’s innovation in life science began with the introduction of its RTCA xCELLigence technology and continues with the recent introduction of NovoCyte flow cytometers.

Cardiovascular toxicity is consistently identified as a leading cause of drug attrition and withdrawal, notes Abassi, explaining that “a number of drugs have been withdrawn from the market due to the risk of causing a potentially fatal form of ventricular arrhythmia referred to as Torsades de Pointes (TdP). The xCELLigence system provides a higher throughput and more predictive approach that can be used earlier in drug development to reduce both cost and risk.” Abassi says the company is confident the new system will deliver significant benefit to the pharmaceutical industry and that it is well-aligned with the FDA CiPA initiative. With its purported speed, combined readout abilities and fortune-telling predictive analysis capabilities, the RTCA CardioECR System is indeed revolutionary and Abassi explains why:

“I would describe it as cutting-edge as one can get, says Abassi. “It’s absolutely revolutionary in the sense that it combines multiple technologies to give additional information about the risk of compounds.” Abassi notes ACEA’s system uses human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. “Obviously with the emergence of [these types of stem cells] the application that everybody thought about was more therapeutic in nature, but the more immediate application is to use stem cells to derive relevant human cell types, such as liver cells and cardiomyocytes for evaluating the potential side effects of pharmaceutical compounds in development.”

Abassi says that with these model systems the industry is now in a position to start testing the toxic side effects of drugs because relevant human model systems are commercially available and viable; previously the pharmaceutical industry had to rely on animal testing. “Now we have relevant human model systems in scalable quantities that we can use for high-throughput screening potentially to screen hundreds, if not thousands, of compounds on a daily basis and get [large amounts] of relevant information from them.”

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