French biotech is inventing the health of tomorrow

“Do you want to save lives with a sea worm?” It makes no sense ! “ This little phrase, Franck Zal has often heard when he started out in 2007, when he was looking for funds to finance his project. It must be said that in the midst of the subprime crisis, investors are not jostling at the gate. But the adopted Breton has a tough head. And a well-established conviction: lugworms, these small bloodworms well known to strollers on the Breton and Norman coasts for the sedimentary twists they leave on the beach, will revolutionize organ transplantation. “When I wanted to understand how this worm, which only breathes at high tide, managed to survive in apnea for six hours at low tide, I discovered that its hemoglobin had the ability to take on oxygen at high tide. Once at low tide, the lugworm draws on this stock to survive ”, says the founder of Hemarina.

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From this was born an idea: to use the oxygenating power of lugworms to improve the preservation of grafts awaiting transplantation. The advantage is twofold: better preserved, the period of use of the organs is extended, and the risks of damage to the grafts are reduced, ultimately reducing the probability that the organ is subsequently rejected by the recipient. . “Today, 20% of the grafts are lost for lack of time to transfer them to the recipient’s place of care, and 30% because the preservation conditions are not optimal”, explains Franck Zal. Almost fifteen years later, the somewhat crazy dream of the former researcher in marine biology at the CNRS no longer seems so absurd. Quite the contrary. At the end of September, the innovation of the Morlaix medtech was thus used in the context of a double forearm transplant – an extremely rare operation – at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi (India).

DNA printer

A nice showcase for French Health Tech! In recent years, young healthcare companies have benefited from a new impetus in the sector. This is evidenced by the record fundraising carried out since the beginning of the year by the French companies: 75 million euros, after barely two years of existence, for the specialist in cell therapy against cancer Mnemo, 64 million euros. euros for the Girondin Treefrog, and even 142 million euros – an unprecedented amount for a biotech in France – for the DNA printer of the Ile-de-France DNA Script… French biotech has never been so successful. The magic did not happen with a wave of the wand, however. “There have been significant efforts made by the entire sector and the public authorities, in particular to strengthen the endowment of French funds that finance innovative healthcare companies, but also to make our ecosystem better known”, explains Paul-François Fournier, Executive Director of Innovation at Bpifrance.

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French biotech is inventing the health of tomorrow