Medical & Dental

CELLINK acquires MatTek for $68M in bid to develop cruelty-free drug testing model

Swedish 3D bioprinter manufacturer CELLINK has agreed to acquire the in-vitro technology specialist MatTek Corporation for $68 million. 

The deal, which is expected to be finalized next week, will see CELLINK pay $13.6 million of the purchase price in shares, and the remaining $54.4 million in cash, to gain full control of MatTek. Given the bioprinting synergy between the firms, CELLINK anticipates that the acquisition will not only serve to accelerate its existing product workflow, but advance its research into animal cruelty-free cellular testing models. 

“The time has come for the next step in our journey, where we will have the opportunity to become a member of an innovative bioconvergence powerhouse, in which our expertise and offering can flourish,” said Alex Armento, President and CEO of MatTek. “We will be able to reach out to a wider community, and continue our mission to put an end to animal testing by providing alternative test models.” 

A scientists experimenting using MatTek's in-vitro cellular technology.
CELLINK has acquired in-vitro technology specialist MatTek in a bid to create new cruelty-free drug testing models. Photo via MatTek.

CELLINK’s bioprinting expansion

Since it was established in 2016, CELLINK has quickly built a broad portfolio of bio-inks and bioprinters, that enable scientists to culture cells into human tissue models. However, while the technology is often used within clinical testing, it remains under constant development, and the firm has worked tirelessly to drive its potential biomedical applications. 

Working with regenerative medicine specialist CTI BIOTECH, for instance, CELLINK has managed to develop tumor cell models with high levels of viability that could become key to treating future cancer patients. Elsewhere, the firm has also partnered with Made In Space to investigate 3D bioprinting’s drug-screening potential onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

More recently, CELLINK has taken a more enterprising approach to growth, acquiring five of its competitors over the last three years alone. The company also appears to be unfazed by the challenging market conditions caused by COVID-19, as it opted to purchase precision dispensing firm Scienion for $96 million in August 2020. 

Effectively, CELLINK’s acquisition of Scenion has enabled it to increase its penetration in the diagnostics sector, but with its MatTek deal, the firm potentially stands to make an even greater advance. In fact, according to the CELLINK’s CEO Erik Gatenholm, the takeover represents a step towards cruelty-free testing models, which was “one of the main reasons the company was founded five years ago.”

CELLINK's acquisition of Scienion is expected to be completed by the end of August 2020. Photo via CELLINK.
CELLINK’s acquisition of MatTek follows its purchase of Scienion for $96 million in August 2020. Photo via CELLINK.

A $68m bio-convergence

On a purely financial basis, CELLINK’s acquisition of MatTek is expected to return rapid dividends, as the firm generated $16.6 million in revenue last year, and it has shown growth of 10% per annum. What’s more, when the deal is completed on March 24th 2021, CELLINK is set to integrate MatTek’s turnover into its own, reporting consolidated revenue from Q2 2021 with boosted income moving forwards. 

More generally, given that the two firms are engaged in similar biological research, their amalgamation could also yield opportunities to streamline their respective workflows. In practice, this means combining CELLINK’s bioprinting and industrial robotic technologies with MatTek’s human-derived tissue models, and the creation of a broader portfolio for their combined R&D and regulatory testing clients. 

Additionally, CELLINK has identified a number of opportunities for joint product development with its new subsidiary, that potentially take advantage of its cell culturing technology, including the creation of highly-accurate testing models. If successful, such research could enable healthcare firms to better evaluate drug efficacy, while minimizing or even removing the need for animal testing altogether. 

“With this strategic acquisition of MatTek, we further realize CELLINK’s and the founders’ vision to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, animal testing,” concluded Gatenholm. “We are combining our strong purpose-driven agenda with trailblazing technology, and by doing so we are converging solutions which can change many people’s lives.”

Putting an end to animal testing 

Although 3D printing human soft tissues remains challenging, a number of recent developments have been reported, that suggest an alternative to animal testing may not be too far away. 

Scientists from Tsinghua University, for instance, have 3D bioprinted brain-like tissue structures that are capable of nurturing implanted neural cells. During their study, the team also found that their cultures displayed high levels of drug sensitivity, indicating their potential for use within drug testing applications. 

On a more commercial front, pharmaceutical company HK inno.N has announced plans to use artificial 3D printed skin as a means of testing autoimmune and skin disorder drugs. As part of the project, the company intends to work with T&R Biofab, to assess the efficacy of different skin disease medications. 

Researchers at the University of Stuttgart and Robert Bosch Hospital, meanwhile, are designing a 3D printed tissue platform as a direct replacement for animal testing in clinical trials. Once ready, the ex-vivo tissue model could either be used for testing new cancer drugs, or better mapping the progression of cancerous tumors. 

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Featured image shows a scientist experimenting using MatTek’s in-vitro technology. Photo via MatTek.

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