Committed to Curing Diabetes

An interview with Felipe Echeverri, CEO, Biorep Technologies, Inc.
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May 31, 2022
Felipe Echeverri, CEO of Biorep Technologies,

Diabetes affects 422 million people worldwide and is the 9th leading cause of death. Dedication to finding a cure for diabetes motivates Felipe Echeverri, CEO of Biorep Technologies, who provide world-leading instruments used globally by diabetes researchers. We’re honored to welcome Felipe and Biorep to the Tetra Partner Network.

Please tell us about your background and how you became CEO of Biorep Technologies, Inc

I grew up in Medellin, Colombia, where my mom was a pediatrician and my dad worked in the construction business.  Being exposed to healthcare through my mom and the curiosity from my dad wanting to understand how things worked sparked my interest in Biomedical Engineering.  I also started playing tennis at age 9 which allowed me to pursue a student-athlete experience at the University of Miami and then at Mercer University.  I had a strong inclination towards mechanical devices which led me to apply and complete a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering.  I’ll never forget on graduation day when the dean of the school of engineering told me that even though I had both degrees, all I really had was a license to learn.  

I joined Biorep when it was a startup looking to help researchers find the biological cure for Type I diabetes.  I was the company’s first employee and was very fortunate to have a great mentor in the company founder, Ramon E. Poo.  As Biorep started to grow, I felt I needed to learn business skills and got an executive MBA at Kellogg School of Management.  That’s when the pieces of the puzzle started coming together and I have not looked back since.  

We have shipped diabetes research equipment to over 35 different countries and our patented technology has helped reverse Type I diabetes in many patients around the world.

I’m now in my 19th year with Biorep and very grateful for the opportunity that has been given to me to grow the company from the ground up.  We are now an ISO 13485 certified and FDA registered medical device manufacturing company.  We have shipped diabetes research equipment to over 35 different countries and our patented technology has helped reverse Type I diabetes in many patients around the world.

Why have you chosen to focus on helping researchers find a cure for diabetes?

The daughter of Biorep’s founder was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was four years old.  This fueled the company’s unwavering commitment to help researchers around the world get closer to a biological cure for Type I diabetes.  Together with the Diabetes Research Institute from University of Miami, we have a long-standing relationship of collaboration.

What are the challenges intrinsic to Type 1 diabetes research and how do your products help researchers?

There is an urgent need for new Type I Diabetes therapies.

There is an urgent need for new Type I Diabetes therapies.  The Type I diabetes (T1D) standard of care is frequent glucose monitoring and multiple daily injections of exogenous insulin which carries a high disease management burden.  There are over 1.8 million people in the U.S. who have Type I diabetes1, up to 40% of patients experience hypoglycemia unawareness2, there is $14.9 billion in health care costs per year, and there is 8.4% mortality due to hypoglycemia.

Biorep has over 15 issued patents around the technology to isolate the Islets of Langerhans from a donor pancreas.  These healthy islets are then transplanted back into the diabetic and these cells can secrete the right amount of insulin based on the blood glucose levels.  

There have been approx. 1,500 patients worldwide successfully transplanted with human cadaveric islets since 2000.

You might wonder why this is not a cell therapy approved by the FDA.  There are two main obstacles which I’m optimistic will be overcome:

  1. Chronic immunosuppression is required (given the islets are from a donor)
  2. Very limited supply of suitable islets (you need one donor pancreas to harvest enough islet cells to reverse diabetes in a single patient).

Who are your customers?

Our customers are scientists and researchers at leading universities, research institutions, and pharmaceutical companies.

What are the trends in the diabetes research industry?

Stem cells can be expanded and differentiated.  Pluripotent stem cells can be differentiated into pancreatic islet precursors.  

Given the two obstacles mentioned above, stem cell-derived cell replacement therapies seem promising as a functional cure for Type I Diabetes (T1D).  There wouldn’t be a need for immunosuppressive drugs (since they could be your own stem cells and hence no rejection), and there could be an unlimited supply of stem cell derived insulin producing cells thereby solving both obstacles and paving the way to a potential cure for Type I diabetes.

Your company is affiliated with world-leading research institutions. You have a close relationship with the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami.  Please tell us about the value of that collaboration.

Biorep’s collaboration with the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) dates back more than 26 years.  All the scientific breakthroughs happen at the DRI and you can think of Biorep as their  “engineering department”.  We help them bring their ideas to life.  They get access to the latest technology and after the prototypes are proven to be useful, we provide the technology to other customers around the world. 

Biorep’s collaboration with the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) dates back more than 26 years. All the scientific breakthroughs happen at the DRI and you can think of Biorep as their “engineering department”.

The DRI is a very special place.  I haven’t seen another place where there is a clinic to treat patients in the first floor, research with mice on the 2nd floor, research with primates on the 3rd floor, cGMP facility and research with human tissue on the 4th floor, research with the cells on the 5th floor, and offices/meeting areas in the 6th floor.  This means they can take an idea and test with mice, then primates, then humans, and back to patients in the same building.  This leads to great efficiencies and collaboration.

For Biorep to be able to design a product and drive it over to the DRI and get it tested by the brightest minds in diabetes is just priceless.

You also work closely with Klearchos K Papas, Ph.D., Department of Surgery, University of Tucson. Dr. Papas is director of the Institute for Cellular Transplantation and collaborates with Novo Nordisk. What type of research is being advanced and how are your products supporting it?

We’ve worked with Dr. Klearchos Papas for many years.  He has had tremendous contributions to the diabetes research field over the years with his deep expertise in oxygen consumption of islet cells.  He was an early adopter of our Perifusion System to perform dynamic perifusion studies on islets while measuring the oxygen levels before and after insulin secretion and one of the first to quantify the metabolic activity of islets when producing insulin in real-time.

Dr. Papas is also jumping on to the stem cell bandwagon and has a collaboration with Novo Nordisk. Our automated Islet Counter has proven to be a key tool in their collaboration and allows them to share reliable cell counts

Dr. Papas is also jumping on to the stem cell bandwagon and has a collaboration with Novo Nordisk.  Our automated Islet Counter has proven to be a key tool in their collaboration and allows them to share reliable cell counts.  We are now taking this collaboration to the next level with the R&D data cloud integration from TetraScience to reduce costs and increase efficiency by being able to share the data across 8 different islet counters located across the globe.

Please tell us about the Diabetes Research Institute Federation and your role within it.

The Diabetes Research Institute Federation is a global alliance of researchers from top medical centers who are focused on one goal: to cure diabetes. Through these worldwide partnerships, promising findings in the lab can be applied to patients more quickly than ever before by overcoming the many significant barriers - financial, political, legal, regulatory - that vary by country and prevent real research progress from being made. The mission of the DRI Federation is to advance new ideas by grouping researchers with specific expertise that may not be located within individual centers. The DRI Federation has several dozen partners and continues to grow.

Through these worldwide partnerships, promising findings in the lab can be applied to patients more quickly than ever before by overcoming the many significant barriers - financial, political, legal, regulatory - that vary by country and prevent real research progress from being made.

Biorep provides the critical equipment necessary to isolate islet cells in a repeatable and reliable way the DRI Federation global alliance.

What role do digital technologies play in diabetes research? Said another way, what benefits are there of utilizing scientific data that is accessible, engineered, actionable, and compliant?

The DRI and Biorep are committed to curing diabetes in the fastest, safest, most efficient way possible. That’s why scientific collaboration has long been at the core of our philosophy. The key to fast-tracking research from the lab to patients is to collaborate – not compete – with fellow scientists.   Being able to share scientific data that is accessible, engineered, actionable, and compliant is at the core of efficient collaboration across sites to accomplish more success for those living with diabetes.

How possible will it be for researchers to create a digital pancreas?

It’s important to understand the difference between treating diabetes and curing diabetes.  Biorep is committed to the cure.  

There is a big market to treat those living with Type I and Type II diabetes.  Developing an artificial pancreas will help treat (not cure) people with Type I diabetes.

An artificial pancreas is a system made of three parts that work together to mimic how a healthy pancreas controls blood glucose in the body.  

  1. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) tracks blood glucose levels every few minutes using a tiny sensor that is inserted under the skin. The sensor wirelessly sends the information to a program stored on a smartphone or on an insulin infusion pump.

The program calculates how much insulin is needed and signals the insulin infusion pump when insulin needs to be delivered.

  1. The insulin infusion pump will deliver small doses of insulin throughout the day when blood glucose levels are not in your target range. There are different types of insulin pumps.
  1. One type of pump is worn outside the body on a belt or in a pocket or pouch. Insulin flows from the pump through a plastic tube that connects to a smaller tube, called a catheter, which has a needle that is inserted under the skin and stays in place for several days.
  2. Another type of pump attaches directly to the skin with an adhesive pad and gives insulin through a catheter inserted under the skin. This kind of pump is replaced every few days.

An artificial pancreas automatically monitors your blood glucose level, calculates the amount of insulin you need at different points during the day, and delivers it.

What are the benefits of belonging to the Tetra Partner Network?

I am convinced that belonging to the Tetra Partner Network will help unlock the full value of scientific data across multiple sites. Imagine all your instruments and scientific data in one place and harmonized in the cloud. There are always opportunities to learn from other fields and build upon what others have learned.

Just look at the recent example from the DRI where they had been doing some studies with stem cells for diabetes research. When COVID-19 came around, they were able to leverage some of the data to quickly pivot and apply many of the lessons learned to one of the first clinical trials with stems cells to treat COVID-19 in U.S. Scientific data holds the power to fuel innovation, provide insights through advanced analytics, and drive outcomes that improve human life.

To learn more about the Biorep Islet Counter, please watch this video:

Sources:

  1. The Diabetes Forum: 2021 Diabetes Blue Book.  Seagrove Partners.
  2. Martín-Timón and F. Javier Del Cañizo-Gómez.  World J Diabetes. 2015 Jul 10; 6(7); 912-926.

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