Novoheart and Harvard Partner on Heart-in-a-Jar Technology to Advance Cardiac Drug Development


Vancouver, British Columbia-based Novoheart signed an exclusive licensing deal with Harvard University’s Office of Technology Development.

The deal allows Novoheart to merge its MyHeart Platform with Harvard’s tissue-engineered scale model of the heart ventricle and bioreactor technology. Novoheart invented and commercialized the first and only “human heart-in-a-jar” model for drug discovery and development.

Harvard’s valved bioreactor technology was engineered in Kevin Kit Parker’s laboratory. He is the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The two institutions expect that the merged technology will result in a next-generation human heart-in-a-jar that will be a superior human heart model for disease modeling, drug discovery and development with “unmatched biofidelity as well as significantly enhanced predictive accuracy, capacity and versatility.”

In addition to developing various bioengineered human heart constructs, Novoheart wants to develop the technology into transplantable grafts for cell-based regenerative heart therapies. The company’s various products include Human Ventricular Cardiomyocytes (hvCM), Cardiac Anisotropic Sheet (hvCAS), Cardiac Tissue Strip (hvCTS), and Cardiac Organoid Chamber (hvCOC). It also offers consultation and screening and phenotyping services using its 2D or 3D tissue assays.

On November 26, Novoheart announced a collaboration with AstraZeneca to develop the world’s first human-specific in vitro, functional model of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF). Working with AstraZeneca’s Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolism team, they will initially establish a new in vitro model using Novoheart’s proprietary 3D human ventricular cardiac organoid chamber (hvCOC), also known as the “human heart-in-a-jar.”

Of the Harvard licensing deal, Kevin Costa, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Novoheart, said, “By integrating Harvard’s valved bioreactor technology with our own proprietary human heart-in-a-jar, Novoheart will advance its disease modeling capabilities to an unprecedented level of biofidelity for in vitro human cardiac assays. It will lead to the development of next-generation heart models that would be impossible in the absence of functional valves, including for highly prevalent heart diseases such as dilated cardiomyopathy and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The models can be directly applied to the discovery of new therapeutics targeting such diseases.”

The work run in the Parker lab was led by Luke MacQueen, a research associate.

Parker said, “My lab develops engineered cardiovascular tissue in order to better understand the physiology of the system, better identify the causes and mechanisms of disease, and develop regenerative solutions for patients in need. While we continue that work at Harvard, it is gratifying to see our innovations adopted into a platform with immediate relevance to the discovery and development of new therapeutics.”

Parker’s overall work is on cardiac cell biology and tissue engineering, traumatic brain injury, and biological applications of microtechnology and nanotechnology. He is involved in a broad range of projects working to develop nanofabrics for tissue regeneration for organs-on-chips to treat pediatric diseases like asthma, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, brain injury and congenital heart disease. He was previously a member of the Defense Science Research Council, an advisory activity of the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The heart-in-a-jar concept is at least one step up from using laboratory animals and cell cultures for research and drug development.

“Novoheart’s human heart-in-a-jar is already in use by our various pharma and biotech clients,” said Ronald Li, Novoheart’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “We anticipate that incorporating Harvard’s technology will broaden our commercial applications and offerings for facilitated drug discovery and development.”

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