The Whole Picture


KIYATEC’s 3-D cell modeling technology is helping speed advances in personalized cancer medicine


With an 88 percent failure rate in clinical trials on humans, the world of pharmaceuticals could use some improvement.

KIYATEC addresses this and other testing issues with technology that allows living cells to be studied in a state that more closely mimics the human body. The company’s 3DKube technology and ongoing research are standing out in the field of cell culture.

Last year the company won a $295,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the first in this congressional district in 15 years. As a result, KIYATEC will be featured in the National Institutes of Health “Innovation Zone” exhibit at the 2014 BIO International Convention in San Diego next month. The exhibit features “some of America’s most promising biomedical technology firms strategically positioned and ready for investor and partnering engagement,” according to the NIH.

KIYATEC’s 3-D cell modeling device responds to more than a decade of research showing that the flattened-out 2-D cells in the familiar petri dish simply don’t yield the best information. Its own research is showing how 3-D modeling can help foster advances in personalized cancer medicine.

KIYATEC’s staff and equipment are humming along in the high-tech milieu of Greenville Health System’s (GHS) Institute for Oncology Research (ITOR). CEO Matthew Gevaert showed UBJ the space and talked about what’s going on in the lab and offices.




What are you excited about right now?


Right now I’m excited that we are getting promising early results from our clinical studies. We’re now getting data that backs up the assertion that 3-D cell culture is better than 2-D, that our laboratory results are reflected in results from patients. We had to work a lot to position ourselves to start asking the right questions using live cells from patients.


Describe KIYATEC’s growth.


Our first full-time employee started in June of 2009. We moved into [ITOR] in 2011. That’s a pretty good marker as to when the company really increased our focus on cancer.

We’ve had revenues every year since 2010, and they’ve grown every year since we started. We sell our 3DKubes through Sigma-Aldrich, a big life sciences distributor. We also have revenue around the services we offer for companies that want us to do a cell culture assessment of their material or their drug.



What was the focus before cancer?


The initial research comes from the graduate work of David Orr, our cofounder. He was immersed in the world of 3-D versus 2-D for other purposes, but he recognized that 3-D was a more convenient way to do complicated but more relevant cell culture and really opened up that field. The 3DKube came out of that research. So even though people had been doing it for 15 years or so, it wasn’t being widely adopted. Things get widely adopted when you make them easier, which his invention does.

So we’ve always been working on complicated but more relevant cell cultures. At first we were focused on changing that corner of the world by giving people a convenient tool, and then we realized the market wants us to do the work of growing the cells, generating the data and then giving them that, rather than the tools to do it themselves.


What are you asked to test on these cells?


For one example, we’re looking at whether we can take a person’s cells back to our laboratory and see which cancer drugs work best for individual patients.



How long does that process take?


We aren’t able to offer that kind of individualized drug response testing service for patients yet. We’re doing the research to generate the data so that we will someday be able to offer it commercially. But for the tests that we run right now, we can have data back within one week of getting the cells.


How do you partner with GHS?


Our first patient samples that we’ve processed and made individualized drug response predictions on have been ovarian cancer, which is one of the five lowest-survival cancers. One of the reasons we got into it was our relationship with Dr. Larry Puls, a gynecologic oncologist at GHS. Ovarian cancer met the right criteria in that we could apply [research] to a patient population that could really use some help, as well as the practical matter that they remove enough tumor tissue that there is some left over, which we use.


Do you have a sense of how far away that is?



There are a lot of variables that can’t be predicted, of course, but less than five years, and we are driving hard to make it happen sooner than that.


What would need to change to move the market to 3-D cell testing and away from the petri dish?


First of all, the onus is on us – which we embrace – to create the robust, excellent data that demonstrates that this really works, that it truly predicts drug response. And then to convince clinicians to use it and insurance companies to pay for it.


What about pharmaceutical companies?


There is a tightly defined system in place right now by which they submit drugs to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval to use in people in clinical trials. The FDA’s expectations of what data is needed before you put a drug into a person would have to change, so it becomes a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. We’re looking for early pharma adopters to pay for this kind of data right now, even though they’re not going to get rewarded for that investment by checking a box because it’s outside of the prescribed norm. They do see the potential. They’re interested.


So how will you be competitive in this space?


We have the challenge of doing what we’ve said we would do, and delivering it at a reasonable cost. There are places right now that would accept your live cancer tissue, but they are using models that don’t offer the kind of predictivity we’re aiming for. Creating the data to show that we can deliver on predictivity, of accurately identifying how a person would respond to a drug if it was given, that’s our biggest challenge, and we embrace it.


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