Alsace Biovalley, a network for strengthening research
A Silicon Valley for biotechnology and health has been developing in Alsace since 2005. It has become a global centre of excellence in these fields. This is exemplified by two innovative projects in the field of medicine, both bearing the Alsace Biovalley brand: TMS Robot, which is facilitating research in neurology and psychiatry, and Orail, which is focused on diabetes.
An assistant for psychiatrists and neurologists
The start-up company Axilum Robotics has as its flagship project the TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) robotic assistant, which aids treatment and research in psychiatry and neurology. “TMS is a means of stimulating certain zones of the cerebral cortex by placing a coil delivering brief, intense and painless magnetic impulses on the surface of the patient’s head. This technique is used as a research tool in neuroscience. It is also used in clinical assessments in various medical conditions, such as major depressive episodes and chronic neuropathic pain”, explains Michel Berg, director of Axilum Robotics.
Using the robot has several advantages compared to manipulation by hand. It enables the positioning of the TMS coil to be automated, with a high level of precision and repeatability.
Diabetes: insulin without jabs
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), diabetes, which continues to spread, affects 347 million people across the world. Whether it is type 1 or type 2, in the great majority of cases, diabetes is treated by injecting insulin several times a day.
Currently under development, the possibility of taking it by mouth would completely change the quality of life for sufferers. This method faces a double problem: the aggressive nature of the digestive system, which destroys insulin, and the relatively large size of the hormone, which restricts its entry into the blood through the intestinal wall. In 2004, teams from the Institut Charles Sadron (ICS) and the Centre européen d’étude du Diabète (European Centre for the Study of Diabetes – CeeD) registered a patent based on an innovative concept: a double encapsulation of insulin; the first of which protects the hormone in the stomach while the second provides for intestinal protection.
The second phase of the project (Orail bis) has been supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) since 2011. Researchers are currently conducting a toxicological study of the nanoparticulate system, which will set the parameters for the change of scale and validation of the trial on miniature pigs.
According to Séverine Sigrist, the project coordinator, “our aim continues to be to demonstrate the efficacy of this orally absorbable insulin. In order to do this, we must obtain a better understanding of the interactions between nanoparticles and intestinal mucus so that we can validate the concept on the miniature pig. This will then enable us to follow up with the first clinical trials.”
“Our mission at Axilum Robotics is to become the world leader in TMS robots. In the longer term, together with other partners, such as the SME Streb & Weil and Laboratoire ICube, our aim is to develop a medical robotics industry in Alsace.”
Michel Berg, director of Axilum Robotics
Total investment and EU funding
The TMS Robot project has a total budget of EUR 2 230 000 for all consortium members and EUR 974 000 for Axilum Robotics. The European Regional Development Fund contribution amounts to EUR 111 241 in the period 2011-2013. The Orail bis project has a total budget of EUR 2 754 000. The European Regional Development Fund’s contribution amounts to EUR 96 701 for the 2007-2013 programming period.