Q&A: Manchester BioGel

Meet Manchester BIOGEL. Founded in 2014, the company was established on technology developed over a 20-year period by co-founders, Professors Aline Miller and Alberto Saiani.

Over the past 6 years, the company has gone from strength to strength, raising investment and most recently expanding into their brand new lab at Alderley Park. We caught up with the team to find out what they have been up to and to take a sneaky peek of their new lab and office space.

What does Manchester BIOGEL do?

Manchester BIOGEL is a leader in the design and manufacture of 3D synthetic peptide hydrogels that are redefining cell culture for life science. Our biologically relevant PeptiGels mimic the cell micro-environment and have tuneable properties to simulate the natural environment of all human tissues. Our PeptiGels are specifically designed and tailored to overcome the key limitations with current biomaterials for regenerative medical applications. They are 100% ethical, animal free and chemically defined, and are supplied with no batch to batch variability. This enables our customers to save time during experimental set-up and to achieve reproducible and reliable results, every time. Excitingly our Peptide hydrogels are clinically translatable offering the potential to deliver life changing therapies.

Tell us a little about your history and story so far.

Founded in 2014, Manchester BIOGEL was established on technology developed over a 20-year period by co-founders, Professors Aline Miller and Alberto Saiani, at the University of Manchester. Over the past six years, the company has received investment from Deepridge Capital, KERO, and Catapult Ventures and Greater Manchester and Cheshire Life Science Fund. This has allowed the company to scale-up production facilities and implement a Quality Management System, as well as develop marketing collateral and invest in R&D to expand our product portfolio. We are pleased to say the Manchester BIOGEL team continues to grow, and we have recently expanded to be a dedicated team of nine.

2020 has been a challenging year for all, but Manchester BIOGEL has continued to thrive and grow. What have been your highlights?

2020 has been a difficult year for many due to COVID-19, but throughout Manchester BIOGEL has continued to thrive and grow. Most notably we expanded the team and are now a dedicated team of nine full-time employees. We also saw a further 3 CASE Award PhD students begin their studies in September 2021 in the Universities of Bath and Glasgow. In recognition of our disruptive technology, we were awarded a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Imperial College London to apply our PeptiGel product to the development of physiologically relevant 3D tumour models. In addition to this, our research has also been recognised by Innovate UK through an award from the Sustainable Innovation Fund award to start an exciting new collaboration with two other UK biotechnology companies, Cellesce and Qkine. This is due to start in January 2021, so kicking the New Year off to a great start!

What are you most excited about when moving into the new labs?

Giving Manchester BIOGEL more exciting opportunities to thrive at Alderley Park, the new lab will allow us to scale up our manufacturing capabilities to meet our increasing customer demand by by allowing us to increase our lab footprint by six times. In addition to increasing our production capability, it is also allowing us to establish cell culture facilities so we can fully participate in more collaborative research and development projects, help the delivery of specific customer projects and allow us to conduct more in-depth product development to feed our expanding product pipeline.

Inspiring the next generation in STEM is important. What sort of skills does Manchester BIOGEL look for? What tips would you give to students and graduates wanting to get into the sector, or may have the relevant skills but are yet to consider a career in life sciences?

We recruit graduates with a range of backgrounds including science, engineering and marketing as we look to fill different roles within a growing company. It goes without saying that the graduate needs to be highly skilled in their specific area of specialism, ideally with some work or placement experience.  Equally important, however, are the transferable skills of team work, flexibility, willingness to learn and enthusiasm. These are essential characteristics we look for at interview, as any new recruit would be joining a small, dedicated team that needs to work together to meet both the day to day and longer term challenge of a growing a multi-national business.

What’s next for Manchester BIOGEL?

As we move into 2021, we are continuing the growth and consolidation of our academic and industrial customer base, as well as working collaboratively to apply our PeptiGel scaffolds to new application and market areas including organoid manufacture, cancer models, 3D bioprinting and push closer to translating into the patients to meet current unmet clinical needs.

As an exemplar, we are looking to develop reproducible and reliable physiologically relevant 3D tissue and disease models in partnership with Drug Discovery CROs to facilitate the discovery of new drugs, determine drug efficacy and measure toxicity in models that faithfully replicate the responses seen in patients.

In parallel, we are excited to see the progress in research and the successful demonstrations of our PeptiGels® and PeptiInks® by our 11 CASE Award PhD studentships who are working across the UK and Ireland on specific applications, such as cancer and kidney organoid growth, bioprinting disease and organ models, and nerve and oesophageal tissue regeneration.

Excitingly, we are also looking to continue growing the Manchester BIOGEL team, to consolidate and build our manufacturing, business development and R&D capability.

What’s the best thing about being based at Alderley Park?

By working alongside like-minded life science companies, there is a strong collegial atmosphere and support network at Alderley Park. The Accelerator team are on hand to help with a range of business training and mentoring, which we believe has been critical for Manchester BIOGEL’s success to date.