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article imageGenoskin brings animal testing alternative to the U.S. Special

By Tim Sandle     Sep 6, 2017 in Health
Genoskin, a company that provides a cutting-edge alternative to animal testing by keeping donated human skin alive, has set up operations in the U.S. To find out more Digital Journal spoke to Pascal Descargues, founder and CEO of Genoskin.
Genoskin provides a unique alternative to animal testing by using excess human skin, donated by patients undergoing procedure. The skin is kept alive in testing wells and it is developed into a patented testing model for cosmetic, pharmaceutical and chemical companies. The retrieved skin offers an innovative health technology superior to animal skin in the form of bioprinted skin. The test skin is a human bilayered skin using bioinks containing human plasma or skin that is grown in laboratories.
Genoskin is an example of innovative healthcare research by a startup venture. The company is a six-year-old biotech business that emerged as a spinoff of a venture from the University of Toulouse. Genoskin has seen immediate success, with a 2015 turnover of €500,000 and an expected turnover in 2017 of €700,000. In terms of future expansion, the company is looking to open an office in Boston in the as well as a U.S. facility in March of 2018, with plans for further offices in Japan and India.
Genoskin in action in the laboratory.
Genoskin in action in the laboratory.
Not only is the Genoskin approach ethically better than using animals, it is potentially more successful. Drugs validated on animals during preclinical studies will often never reach the market. This is, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, mainly due to toxicity and efficacy issues in humans.
To find out more about this healthcare technology, Digital Journal discussed Genoskin with the company's founder and Chief Executive Officer Pascal Descargues.
Descargues discussed Genoskin technology and how it works: "Every week Genoskin collects fresh skin samples to produce ready to use and standardized kits containing living human skin biopsies. The human skin tissue we use is donated skin left over after a surgical intervention, which would otherwise be destroyed.
"The skin biopsies are embedded in a proprietary biological matrix that ensures normal tissue viability and integrity for up to seven days. Only the skin surface is left in contact with the atmospheric air in order to enable topical application of cosmetic creams or drugs.
"Together with the skin biopsies, we provide a culture medium containing all the required nutriments to 'nourish' the tissue during the ex vivo [that which takes place outside an organism'] culture."
The completed product is then sent to pharmaceutical, cosmetics and chemical companies around the world.
Genoskin s Histoskin test slides.
Genoskin's Histoskin test slides.
We then asked Descargues about the advantages of the skin model. He addressed four major benefits to using Genoskin in testing:
1. Real human skin structure
2. Live human skin response
3. Easy and ready to use and standardized
4. Two to five times less expensive than animal testing.
Offering a non-animal model is quite novel within the mainstream pharmaceutical and cosmetic testing world. We pitched to Descargues what his motivation was for embarking on this path. To this Descargues answered: "Our first motivation is scientific." He then proceeded to clarify: "During my PhD studies, I developed a mouse model genetically modified to reproduce a rare skin disease called Netherton Syndrome. Using transgenic or knockout mice is a gold standard in research to better understand the function of a particular gene. The characterization of this mouse model definitely helped us to better understand the molecular pathological events underlying Netherton Syndrome. Nevertheless, we faced many issues in confirming these results at the 'human' level by using biopsies from patients. Furthermore, we found that the mouse model reproducing the Netherton Syndrome cannot be used to screen drugs since the disease is lethal for the mice.
"Then, I had a similar experience during my postdoctoral training at the University of California San Diego. I used to work with transgenic and knockout mice to investigate the function of a particular gene in skin development. The mice models used were very useful in discovering new molecular pathways. Nevertheless, we were not able to confirm the results for humans because we were missing tools similar to Genoskin’s new technologies."
This planted the seed for the foundation of Genoskin: "After these experiences, I decided to launch Genoskin," said Descargues, "in order to provide 100 percent human in vitro tools to researchers in both the academic and pharma/cosmetic industries."
Aside from the scientific, other factors inspired the development of Genoskin. "My secondary motivation is ethical; during my research work I was never comfortable with the idea of performing experiments on mice and killing them... I am convinced that at least for dermatological and cosmetic research, in vitro [meaning: in the glass] tools such as we are providing at Genoskin, can replace all animal testing worldwide."
Genoskin uses real human skin that is collected from volunteering donors. All our donors expressly c...
Genoskin uses real human skin that is collected from volunteering donors. All our donors expressly consent to donating excess tissue after surgery to help science move forward while preserving animal welfare.
The scientific and ethical rationale is all well and good, but it was important to establish from Descargues how the test results compared against animal tests. "It’s already known that animal tests cannot predict human responses for absorption of topically applied compounds. In all cases, dermal penetration is higher in animal than in human skin.
"Animal skin does not have an immune system similar to human skin, limiting its use in studying skin inflammation. We are mostly comparing our technologies to human clinical data, describing the characterization of our skin models in studying caffeine and paraben absorption and metabolism." Parabens are a class of widely used preservatives in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.
With the scientific benefits of Genoskin established, the level of interest from different healthcare sectors has been extensive. Descargues explains that his company sells "products to pharma, cosmetics and chemical companies around the world." The main applications include:
-Testing dermal absorption
-Allergy, inflammation
-Drug/product efficacy
-Skin toxicology
-Subcutaneous administration
-UV/pollution protection
-Hair growth
In terms of how research centers use the data, there is a digital capture element, albeit one that is in development. Here Descargues explains: "Many in silico models [research conducted by means of computer modelling or computer simulation] have been developed. However, many molecular and cellular skin mechanisms are still not well understood and require 'real' and not virtual experiments to generate data."
In terms of future development, Genoskin, Descargues says the company plans to use its "proprietary biological matrix to culture other tissues than skin." This is a project that remains in development.
Beyond Genoskin's immediate plans, we took the opportunity to ask Descargues what other trends of interest are occurring with pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Descargues noted that demand for animal product alternatives "is increasing dramatically due to the ban in Europe since 2013 on animal testing for cosmetic products. Now the ban is also in place in Norway, Israel, India and New Zealand."
"In Europe," said Descargues, "a marketing ban is also in place: prohibiting the marketing in the EU of finished cosmetic products and ingredients which were tested on animals. Companies from other countries, such as the U.S., cannot use animals if they plan to sell their products in Europe — the largest market in the world."
The Genoskin company has come into the healthcare testing market at a time when ethical and scientific questions about animal testing are at the forefront, with a product that is demonstrably effective. This business-to-business solution shows the types of opportunities that are available for startups in the healthcare sector.
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