Ayla Annac: Invivo’s verve center
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Her fuel is a personal passion for healthy hearts. She’s living her dream of helping the pharmaceutical industry find safe and effective treatments and hopefully cures. Her leadership style is dynamic enough to have helped her company win a prestigious award named for history’s most famous inventor. Those are only a few of the reasons why Ayla Annac is among the inaugural members of In Business magazine’s Women of Industry.
Annac is the CEO and cofounder of InvivoSciences, for which she also serves as a project director. As such, she is impressed with the lifetime achievements and inventions of her scientific co-founders and partners, Drs. Tetsuro Wakatsuki and Elliot Elson. All three founders have been with IVS since its inception. “It’s a very humbling award,” Annac states. “I’m personally happy for me and for my business partners.”
InvivoSciences is a Madison biotech engaged in the development of precision and regenerative medicine. To ensure the efficacy of treatments for heart disease, which claimed the life of Annac’s father, IVS uses human induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adult stem cells that have been reprogrammed to be as pluripotent as human embryonic stem cells, to generate patient-specific disease models for drug and diagnostics development. The technology, she adds, serves as an alternative to controversial animal testing, but it’s the human animal that stands to gain the most.
Simply put, “We have a technology to predict cardiotoxicity in drug treatments,” Annac explains.
Her leadership style, described as “dynamic” by Dr. Wakatsuki, the company’s chief science officer, not only helped IVS develop its technology and global commercial plans, it helped earn a 2012 Edison Award recognizing the world’s most innovative new products, services, and business leaders.
Dr. Wakatsuki appreciates Annac’s ability to take a risk that must be taken. That was evident more than a decade ago, when Annac and her partners brought IVS to Madison from St. Louis, Mo. The goal was to further develop its science and technologies and grow its global commercial plans with strategic partners, and Annac believed that Madison was the best place to do it.
Tackling a hearty challenge
Wakatsuki cites data that notes from 1980 to 2011, cardiovascular safety liabilities caused 52.3% of 44 marketed drug withdrawals. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death globally, yet only 8.7% of cardiovascular drugs successfully pass clinical trials. “There is an unmet need to address a patient’s specific genetic make-up and phenotype by adopting a personalized treatment methodology for cardiovascular diseases,” Wakatsuki notes.
In response, IVS has become a leading developer of 3D cell and tissue culture models. It provides a high-throughput, functional system for testing cardio safety and efficacy to screen and identify compounds or pathways that may alter cardiac physiology and pathology. The proprietary technology allows the growth of engineered tissues in 3D to mimic healthy and disease-naive human tissues, which enables the gap to be bridged between cell-based assays and studies using isolated organs and tissues, and it improves clinical approval success rates by predicting patients’ responses to drug candidates.
Within precision medicine, human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology is critical because it generates a disease model in a dish. “The high-content analysis of human engineered tissues is instrumental in drug discovery at their screening and lead optimization stage,” Wakatsuki explains.
During the preclinical studies, the IVS screening platforms will support the prediction of efficacy, dose, and safety of drugs to humans and drug candidates in clinical trials and treatments. Its micro tissues are considered an ideal in vitro model for the study of acute and chronic toxicity.
In addition to cardiac muscles, the technology can be applied to mimic skeletal muscle, connective tissue, and their diseased states (e.g., hereditary cardiac diseases, cardiac fibrosis, cancer, and orphan diseases).