© Innovacell
  • The EIB will provide the Austrian biotech company with a €15 million venture debt loan.
  • Innovacell is developing cell therapies to regenerate the functionality of the sphincter muscle.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is providing Innsbruck-based biotech firm Innovacell with a venture debt loan of up to €15 million to finance its €40 million investment plan over the next three years. The Austrian biotech company develops innovative autologous cell therapies for treating faecal and urinary incontinence. These diseases affect many people, especially those of older age.

The EIB’s venture debt loan is guaranteed by the European Guarantee Fund (EGF). The fund was set up by 22 EU Member States to cushion the economic consequences of the pandemic for small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs). The EGF allows the EIB to take higher risks in financing startups.

Incontinence is most commonly caused by damage to or weakening of the sphincter muscle. Innovacell is developing cell therapies that should regenerate the affected muscle. The therapies are based on the natural process of muscle formation: a small amount of healthy muscle tissue is taken from the affected person, and muscle stem cells are isolated from the collected tissue. These stem cells are differentiated, and the resulting muscle precursor cells are multiplied and injected into the affected sphincter muscle. Furthermore, Innovacell uses a patented ultrasound-guided implantation device to better ensure proper engraftment of the implanted cells.

Innovacell currently employs 28 people in Innsbruck, and another eight at their headquarters in Japan. The company established its headquarters there because Japanese authorities have created a cell therapy-friendly regulatory environment for advanced medicinal products. The company, which has already launched a Phase 3 trial in Europe, is progressing towards the start of the Japanese trial as well.

Regenerative medicine is considered by many to be an emerging pillar of modern medicine. Innovacell develops personalised cell therapies with the potential to cure diseases through regeneration. This makes the approach unique. Patients benefit from the minimally invasive administration of cell therapies that are intended to permanently cure bladder weakness or involuntary stool loss after just one treatment. Innovacell wants to make these medicines available to patients as quickly as possible so they can live again without the restrictions of incontinence.

EIB Vice-President Thomas Östros said: “The degree of innovation in the research and development undertaken by Innovacell is significant. It addresses a large patient population with a high but unmet medical need. Regenerative medicine is paramount to developing and retaining European scientific acumen, whilst also contributing to the region’s competitiveness.”

Innovacell CEO Dr Ekkehart Steinhuber added: “Age, injuries or illness can lead to cells, tissue or organs no longer functioning optimally. Regenerative medicine has the potential to restore these structures to their original functionality. This is done by replacing or strengthening the affected structures with new biological material and stimulating the body’s own repair and regeneration processes. In contrast to symptomatic treatment, the goal of regenerative medicine is to eliminate the cause of a disease and to regain function.”

Background information

The European Guarantee Fund (EGF) was set up by the EIB Group with contributions from Austria and 21 other EU Member States to shield companies suffering from the COVID-19 crisis. Using nearly €25 billion in guarantees, the EGF allows the EIB and the EIF to quickly make loans, guarantees, asset-backed securities, equity and other financial instruments available to mostly small and medium-sized enterprises. The EGF is part of the European Union’s recovery package aiming to provide a total of €540 billion to boost those parts of the EU economy that have been hit the worst.

Innovacell AG was founded in 2004 in Innsbruck, Austria, and is a 100% subsidiary of Innovacell K.K. in Tokyo, Japan. Innovacell is a biotechnology company focused on developing, producing and marketing cell therapies for treating faecal and urinary incontinence. Innovacell has also developed technologies for isolating, multiplying, using and delivering muscle cells. Patents for these technologies have already been granted or their applications filed. Innovacell aims at marketing the products it has developed in the five key European countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) as well as in Japan and the United States. The goal is to become a global leader in the field of regenerative medicine with a focus on innovative, personalised cell therapies.