P | P | P feat. Manchester BIOGEL.

We caught up with Adedamola (Dammy) Olayanju, Principal Scientist at Manchester BIOGEL, a leader in the supply of peptide hydrogels for use in cell culture, bioprinting, tissue regeneration and drug discovery.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Jazz@ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself, what Manchester BIOGEL does, what stage you are at currently and what makes your business and offering unique?

Dammy: I’m Dammy, the Principal Scientist at Manchester BIOGEL. I am a pharmacologist by training having done my PhD at the University of Liverpool in Drug Discovery and Development. My research focus was on the modulation of different cellular pathways involved in drug screening and development. After my PhD, I did two Post-Docs investigating the development and application of different organotypic cultures in drug screening platforms. Thereafter, I moved to a research institute, Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research (NPIMR), to contribute to the development of bio-engineered tissues. Here, I started investigating the validity of the several cellular models, including organoids, in the development of bioengineered tissues. I was also exploring the use of fully defined alternatives, particularly synthetic extracellular matrices, which is how I found Manchester BIOGEL.

As a company we are a leader in the production of peptide hydrogels for use in 2D and 3D cell culture, 3D bioprinting and other relevant 3D cultures. Our peptide hydrogels – PeptiGels® and PeptiInks® can be used in areas, such as organoids technology, stem cells research, cancer research, bioprinting, regenerative medicine and drug discovery and development. Manchester BIOGEL was established in 2014 and is based at Alderley Park, Cheshire with a growing team of currently 10 people. Some of our exciting projects involve the use of PeptiGels® in the development of tissue specific organoids in disease-free extracellular matrices. By accurately mimicking the behaviour and interaction of cells in their natural environment, our gels allow for more reliable physiologically and clinically relevant studies.

Jazz@ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of your business and Product?

Dammy: Manchester BIOGEL, is a start-up company established by Profs. Aline Miller and Alberto Saiani. The research originally started at the University of Manchester, with over 20 years combined experience to define the technology and its application to different cell types and studies ranging from in vitro to in vivo investigations. We are heavily invested in research, currently sponsoring 11 PhD students across the UK and Ireland who are looking at validating MBG products for different biological applications.

Jazz@ADLIB: Speaking of People, can you share some challenges you have faced, are facing, or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team?

Dammy: One of the main challenges is educating the customers. As this is novel technology, there needs to be lots of dedicated resources towards educating the customers for easy adoption. The other challenge with our team expansion, which I guess is shared across most start-up companies, is funding. We are very optimistic about the skills we could obtain, but these need to be within our available resources and there needs to be justification of adding in new team members to continue to drive the growth of Manchester BIOGEL.

Jazz@ADLIB: Moving to Product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit?

Dammy: Generally, there is a recognised need for synthetic hydrogels within the 3D cell culture space, as there are not many validated fully defined systems for generating complex 3D structures. Traditionally, cells are cultured on tissue culture plastic, which is 2D, however this method is limited in its applications as it is not fully representative of the in vivo environment. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop more tissue-mimicking physiologically relevant 3D systems involving cells and extracellular matrices. A lot of the currently used 3D structures for cell culture have made use of animal derived products, which again, have their limitations within human research such as the lack of tuneability and translational relevance. The current market leader is a product of tumorigenic source which means it cannot be used to validate any non-cancer tissues. There is a clear need in the marker for more defined tissue-mimicking models, which is where our peptide hydrogels fit – we overcome the limitations of the existing products on the market. Our hydrogels are biocompatible, animal free, reproducible, and tuneable to replicate the in vivo microenvironment. We can also make bespoke hydrogels based on customer requests to mimic different microenvironments with varying mechanical stiffnesses and functionalities.

Jazz@ADLIB: And then Potential, can you share some challenges or barriers you had to overcome to create a Product offering with potential?

Dammy: The initial challenge, like any new product is building credibility. As we expand the market base, we must spend more time and resources educating customers on our offering, which has been a small challenge. Because our offering is completely new, we have to spend a dedicated amount of time educating new and potential users and the public, which is a time challenge. We are having to teach people to challenge the ‘status-quo’ and create new protocols. So far, we have recorded successes in getting more customers adopt our platform technology.

Jazz@ADLIB: Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups & scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around best approach?

Dammy: We are currently preparing for next funding round hoping for a bigger investment in the company. The advice I would give is that investment is directly correlated to the value of the company’s technology AND the need in the market. If the technology is good but there is no need, investors would struggle to justify funding it, so make sure there is both value and need.

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Jazz Jones