Cinzia Silvestri is the co-founder of BI/OND that simulates organs on computer chips. In doing so, BI/OND facilitates the search for medicines to combat heart-, intestine- and brain diseases. “We provide biologists with a test environment that is similar to the human body.” The Accenture Innovation Award in the category Health was given to BI/OND. The jury notes that the team deploys science for a technology that could make a real change.
 

The Beginning

What is BI/OND?
“A company that creates an innovation for better medication. Put simply, we make miniature models of human organs and transfer this to a computer chip. These organ-on-chips (OOCs) help biologists with research on the progression of illnesses. This speeds up the process of finding cures.”

How does it work?
“Our OOC is silicon-based, the same material that the ‘brain’ of your computer or phone is made of. With silicon, BI/OND replicates the environment of human organs. Imagine that biologists are looking for a drug to combat a heart disease, they can then load heart cells onto the chip. These cells will behave as if they are part of a real organ.”

What are the advantages?
“With regular drug tests, it is difficult to predict what the consequences will be for the human body, based on laboratory research and animal tests. As a researcher, you are freer and able to perform tests faster with the innovation of BI/OND. It is a good alternative for standard and static in vitro tests. You don’t need test tubes and the process of finding ingredients for creating better medicine is facilitated.”

How did the idea arise?
Nikolas Gaio, William Quiros Solano and I founded BI/OND. The three of us worked in the same lab for almost five years. William develops mostly sensors and electrodes. One day, he made a mistake during the fabrication process. As happens frequently in science, this error gave rise to an innovative technology.”

When did you know BI/OND was viable?
“When the biologists around us showed interest in our prototype. Together with them, we further developed our technology; mostly on the chip’s actual level of use. All the knowledge we gathered converged into BI/OND. Now, it has become a marketable technology that lets biologists concentrate on what they are good at.”
 

The Now

Why did you decide to register for the AIA18?
“To show that a scientist can grow into an entrepreneur. By taking the stage at the Accenture Innovation Awards, we challenged ourselves to share our success story in a popular way and with a large audience. It is science that can save lives by making medicines available in a timelier manner. That is the difference we are making. The AIA provided us with the perfect network and publicity.”

What have you accomplished through AIA up to now?
“We have met venture capitalists and pharmaceutical firms through the network. And after the award ceremony, we were approached by biologists that would like to do pilot projects with us. Each one of the contacts are valuable for the moment when we are ready to bring our product into the market.”

What challenges are you currently facing with BI/OND?
“Everything we are doing costs a lot of time, energy and money. At the moment, the BI/OND team consists of the three of us and three interns. We want to grow and participate in more pilots and increase the publicity around the chip. At the moment, the collaboration with partners in the field of research and development demands the most attention.”

Why is BI/OND based in the Netherlands?
“We are working in a conservative field. We are required to comply with strict working methods. I believe the Netherlands is the best country for product development because of the academic community that is extremely broad-minded. There is a lot of interest for OOCs, also from the government. Biologists are willing to take the risk to test a new technology.”
 

The Future

What can we expect from BI/OND in the coming years?
“In five years, we will have a bigger team that will present our technology in the Netherlands and Europe. We will look to collaborate with a pharmaceutical firm because they can make a change when it comes to creating more accurate medicine. Lastly, together we retain what is good, and that is mostly our enthusiasm for BI/OND.”

What is your golden tip for innovators?
“Showcase your idea to the outside world and potential clients. Maintain a network of clients and early adopters. They are the ones that can provide you with valuable feedback. Take on the challenge to keep on developing your product and always involve your clients in the process.”

*) BI/OND is the winner of the Accenture Innovation Awards 2018 in the theme Health.