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Hydrogel Biomaterials Company Raises $3M in Early Funds

Trivia Frazier

Trivia Frazier (Rusty Costanza, Tulane University)

13 Oct. 2022. A developer of bioactive hydrogels as alternatives to animal models for drug discovery and clinical lab tests is raising $3 million in its first venture round. Obatala Sciences Inc. in New Orleans is a five year-old enterprise that seeks to provide lab testing media derived from human cells that better reflect drug targets, as well as a greater ethnic and racial diversity of patients.

Obatala Sciences offers hydrogels, water-based polymer gels infused with human cells, that company says overcome limitations of two-dimensional lab cultures or animals in preclinical tests for drug toxicity and indicators of efficacy. The company says its hydrogels provide a 3-D scaffold or matrix, with nutrients and proteins that encourage cell and tissue development. Obatala says its hydrogels support stem cell growth and differentiation, including blood vessels and immune responses.

The company currently offers adipose or fat cells in hydrogels for lab-on-a-chip devices for preclinical drug testing for both white and brown fat tissue. In 2020, researchers from Obatala Sciences, led by company CEO Trivia Frazier, published a paper in the journal Stem Cell International that demonstrated key performance characteristics as a model for white adipose tissue, for testing drugs addressing obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Other hydrogel chip models in development, according to the company, are pancreatic islet cells and bone cells, with longer-term plans for cartilage, muscle, and liver chips.

Support underserved entrepreneurs and regions

The Obatala Sciences technology is based on post-doctoral studies by Frazier in the lab of stem cell researcher Jeffrey Gimble at Tulane University medical school in New Orleans. Gimble is a co-founder of the company and serves as its chief medical officer. Obatala Sciences currently resides at The Beach, a research park affiliated with University of New Orleans. The company raised $1.1 million in seed funds in Jan. 2021, according to Crunchbase.

Obatala Sciences is raising $3 million in its first venture funding round, led by être Venture Capital and Ochsner Lafayette General Healthcare Innovation Fund. The company être Venture Capital in Santa Cruz, California is a women-owned venture investor that seeks to support underserved entrepreneurs and those in geographic regions usually bypassed for early-stage funding. The Ochsner Lafayette General Healthcare Innovation Fund is the investment arm of Ochsner Health, a health care system serving Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Joining the round are Benson Capital Partners, Elevate Capital Fund, and The Hackett-Robertson-Tobe Group.

““This funding will accelerate the commercialization of our pipeline products as we work towards our milestones,” says Frazier in a company statement, “which include the build-out of our lab at The Beach at UNO, a research park district located near the University of New Orleans campus, obtaining our ISO certifications, expanding our North American and international distribution network, and deepening our sales, marketing, and customer support teams to support our growing global customer base.”

As reported by Science & Enterprise in Oct. 2020, the Food and Drug Administration is partnering with the company Emulate Inc. to evaluate organ models on chips as preclinical testing alternatives for Covid-19 and other drugs. Obatala Sciences cites FDA’s interest in preclinical testing alternatives as evidence of a market for its hydrogel models.

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