Development of ‘Organ on a Chip’ to Replace Animal Experiments
- Number of applications related to human organ chips combining bio and IT technologies is increasing -
With the recent boom in cosmetics and new medicine development, about 4 million animals are sacrificed in experiments annually (372 million in 2018), but as there are differences between humans and animals in both disease appearance and toxic reactions, there are limits to animal experiments in terms of predictability. An alternative to animal experiments that has attracted much attention because it can overcome such limitations is ‘Organ on a Chip’, a device which accurately simulates the physiological characteristics of a human body. Organ on a Chip technology is a technology that experiences responsiveness to medicines by culturing cells of human body organs such as blood vessels, lungs, or the liver in three dimensions, placing them on a micro-fluidic chip in which electronic circuits are formed and imitating a bio-environment similar to that of a human body.
According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), there were only 14 such patent applications in 2009, an increase to 25 cases in 2013 after the EU banned the manufacture and sale of cosmetics that have undergone animal experiments due to ethical issues, 41 cases in 2014, 45 such cases in 2015, 67 cases in 2016 and 77 cases in 2017. Not including 2018 (for which there are still unpublished patents), the number of patent applications in 2017 tripled compared to 2013.
<Patent Application Trends by Year>
Looking at the number of applications by technology, 23% of the cases (93 cases) concern culturing technologies of culturing and proliferating cells in three dimensions, and this is the most common type of technology applied for in this area. In order to reliably predict a medicine’s reaction in a human body through organ chips, it is necessary to culture cells that implement the three dimensioned structure and physiological characteristics of organs as is. Accordingly, it can be anticipated that the number of applications in this category will only continue to increase.
Next, 20% (79 cases) and 18% (74 cases) of applications are related to three-dimensional cell culture-related materials and devices, respectively, while applications related to sensor device applications embodied on chips constitute 12% (49 cases), while medicine experiencing methods using Organ on a Chip make up 10 % (36 cases) of the applications.
<Application Status by Technology Field>
By type of applicant, universities accounted for 49% of cases (198 cases), foreign companies submitted 20% (82 cases), Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) made up 15% (60 cases), while research institutes constituted 9% (35 cases), and it can be seen that the proportion of foreign companies and Korean universities is high. For this reason, it is analyzed that organ on a chip for certain disease models has already been commercialized in major countries such as the United States, but the associated technologies remain in the basic research stage in Korea.
<Application Status by Applicant Type>
The Bio Examination Division of KIPO stated, “Organ on a Chip technology not only avoids the ethical debate over animal experiments, but also attracts attention as a key technology for the development of new medicines with customized medication in the future. For small hidden champions to emerge, universities and start-up companies spun off from research institutes must lay a foundation for growth based on secured intellectual property rights by systematically constructing organ on a chip-related patent portfolios.”