TransplantLyfe Interview with Petter Björquist – CEO at VERIGRAFT
I chatted with Petter Björquist, one of the finalists for the CSL Behring Transplant Innovation Challenge, about his novel innovation for the future of transplantation.
His company, VERIGRAFT, is developing a method of creating personalized organs from donors without the requirement of immunosuppression, avoiding tissue rejection, infection, other side effects, and the high price tag associated with typical transplantation. Currently, they are developing non-vital organs, such as blood vessels and nerves. It is a two-step process that first takes off the donor’s cells – decellularization. This leaves an empty tube, which is the 3D structure scaffold of a blood vessel, for example. Yet without the cells, it has no identity. The second part of the process gives the organ an identity again – personalized with the new patient’s cells and other noncellular material. What’s unique about this innovation is that it only requires 50mL of blood to be incubated with the blood vessel scaffold for about a week. Then, the new organ is ready to be transplanted into the patient.
The inspiration behind this research
I asked Petter what his inspiration and driving force behind this research was and what propels the continued advancement.
Although he has no direct connection to transplant (He worked in the field of cell therapies for 25 years and saw many ill patients.), Petter sees the opportunities and the significant challenges for those suffering and in medical need. He often receives emails from patients who are hoping to be cured of their disease. They are his motivation.
“This is the best job in the world – it’s a scientific challenge and I’m also working towards solving patients problems,” Petter said. He added that being a finalist in the innovation challenge was an incredible experience, despite not actually winning.
As we know, performing research is very expensive. It requires hard work from many individuals, material consumption, clinical phase regulation, and administrative burdens, which all have to be financed. Although he didn’t win the Innovation challenge, the opportunity to share his innovation with a larger transplant-research community and potential investors helped him tremendously. He was also able to benchmark his innovation against others in the field who gave him useful input and asked questions that challenged and supported his business model. For him, coming in contact with the large ecosystem of the transplant community was truly a pleasure.
The Future of VERIGRAFT and personalized transplants
I asked Petter how he hopes this innovation will advance the health of patients, and his answer was quite simple: He hopes it will change people’s lives.
In the eight years since starting his research and company, it has already advanced so far – currently testing the solution in patients and examining a range of diseases to provide viable therapeutics. Petter hopes this innovation method ultimately changes the lives of people and allows them to have a much better quality of life. Those that are significantly hindered in their daily activities are in desperate need of health improvement. This innovation will hopefully provide just that.
To advance, Petter wants to see positive results from the current ongoing patient testing, before he expands the company, clinical trial sites, and business connections beyond Europe and into the US and Asia. The pipeline for the clinical testing and expansion for other indications will continue for the next three to five years. And, Petter’s long-term goals are to partner with a larger company that can help speed up development of these products and innovations and to expand this technology into larger vital organs. The current research is laying the groundwork for anticipated regulatory hurdles and securing financing from a positive track record with the current study outcomes.