First ever innovation credit to develop artificial cornea
Leiden, 6 February 2012
On 6 February 2012 Minister Verhagen awarded Aeon Astron Europe an innovation credit of over €3 million from the Netherlands’ new SME Innovation Credit fund (the Innovatiefonds MKB+). The credit will support the further development of an artificial cornea made of fish scale material.
CEO Michael Lai and Ingrid Vodegel accepted the innovation credit from Minister Maxime Verhagen and SME chairman Hans Biesheuvel. Aeon Astron Europe is the first company to be awarded this loan from the new Innovatiefonds MKB+, which was launched in January 2012. The loan amounts to over €3 million, and is a reinvestment of an earlier innovation credit repaid by the SME company Sim Industries, a manufacturer of aviation simulators. “This Innovatiefonds MKB+credit is very important to us. It means that we can get our product onto European markets faster, and stay ahead of the competition,” says Ingrid Vodegel.
Expansion in Leiden
Aeon Astron Europe is a young biomedical company enjoying a rapid rise. Currently housed in the Biopartner building of the Leiden BioScience Park, the company has ambitious expansion plans that include a clean room and seven laboratories. A production unit is already in preparation. This growth will also increase the number of employees from the present six to at least 25 and possibly 50. “So this innovation credit is also benefiting the Dutch economy as a whole”, says Ingrid Vodegel.
Corneas from fish scales
Aeon Astron Europe will use this innovation credit to further develop an artificial cornea made from fish scales. The cornea is the transparent part of the outer eye through which light passes when entering the inner eye. Worldwide, an estimated ten million people suffer from partial or complete blindness because of a damaged cornea. The only treatment currently available for this is a corneal transplant, but donors are by no means always available. In the Netherlands it was recently announced that over the last five years the waiting list for a corneal transplant has actually doubled. Corneal transplants are also expensive, and patients continue to run the risk that a donated cornea is rejected by the body. Aeon Astron Europe is therefore developing a ‘biocornea’ made out of fish scales stripped of all cellular material and calcium. “This biocornea is unique in several aspects,” explains Ingrid Vodegel. “To begin with, there is no risk for ‘transplant rejection’ compared with receiving a cornea from a donor. With an aid of the biodegradable biocornea, a new cornea will be regenerated by the recipients themselves. Secondly, these patients are offered a permanent solution, since there is no need to take anti-rejection drugs or other medicines. Recipients may rebuild long-lasting vision after biocornea implantation. With other artificial applications, people often start losing their sight again after a few months.” Aeon Astron Europe will use the innovation credit to fund a variety of preclinical and clinical trials, both in the Netherlands and worldwide.
The Innovatiefonds MKB+
The Innovatiefonds MKB+ credit fund was launched on 1 January 2012. It enables companies to finance long, costly development plans for the development of innovative products and services. Past repayments accrued to the treasury, but since 1 January 2012 they have flowed back to the Innovatiefonds MKB+ where they can be invested anew. This has enabled the fund to extend credit to four or five times as many entrepreneurs as before. Over €500 million will have been made available in this way by the end of 2015.