A Newcastle company that has created a model of a human gut to trial new drugs and foodstuffs without the use of animals has raised £1.25m from the North East Venture Fund, supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Mercia Ventures.

Aeius Biotech, a spin out from Newcastle University, provides testing services for major pharmaceutical and nutrition companies including Huel. The funding will enable it to meet growing demand by relocating from the university into laboratories in Newcastle, and expanding its five-strong team with the creation of ten new jobs in the next two years.

Aelius’s model is the only one of its type that can simulate all three stages of the digestion process – from substances passing through the gut, crossing the mucus layer on its surface and being absorbed into the body. By giving companies an insight into how their product performs and is absorbed into the body, it can help de-risk product development and improve formulations to make them easier to absorb and more effective.

Aelius was founded five years ago by Dr Peter Chater, Dr Matt Wilcox and Professor Jeff Pearson and is based on their research at the university. The funding will also help them continue their research and development to improve and automate the model, as well as stepping up sales and marketing activity and expanding the technical team to boost testing capacity.

Dr Peter Chater, the company’s CEO, said: “Formulation development is one of the big challenges faced by our customers and because of the limitations of current laboratory models, a lot of testing is done in animals. Apart from ethical issues, this is expensive, time-consuming and the results are often not replicated in human trials. Our unique model simulates the processes of digestion and absorption in a single lab system, giving customers vital data on how their formulations perform early in the development process and without the need for animal testing. We are excited to secure backing from Mercia and the NEVF to support our mission to make Aelius Biotech a trusted global leader in this field.”

Chris McCourt of Mercia Ventures added: “There is increasing demand for laboratory testing services but companies are trying to move away from the use of animals. Aelius’s model is the most advanced of its type in the world and allows customers to determine the likely success of their products in a faster, more cost-effective and more ethical way. The team have been providing testing services for five years now and are seeing growing demand. This funding will enable them to take the business to the next level.”

Chris Hughes and Max Gilchrist of Mincoffs LLP provided legal advice to the NEVF while Philip Clare and Stephanie Brown of Muckle LLP acted for the company.