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French company launches €100m project to create artificial skin

President Macron has hailed the ‘Holy Grail’ goal of creating artificial skin - to heal burn and injury victims - as ‘innovative’ and ‘a source of pride’

7 April 2021
A scientist looks into a microscope. French company launches €100m project to create artificial skinThe research project will cost €100m, and take 5-10 years to achieve. If successful, it will be a world-first
By Hannah Thompson

A French medical company is working to create artificial skin to treat severe burns and injury victims, in a €100 million project that if successful would be a world first.

Family company Urgo, based near Dijon in Côte d’Or, has dubbed the project “Genesis”. The company is already known for its “second skin” products that help ease and heal severe blisters or burns.

But this project is taking that technology further, and seeking to create “genuine” artificial skin that could be used to help heal patients with severe injuries or burns. 

Currently, patients needing extra skin often require grafts from other parts of their body, which can cause severe scarring, pain, infection, and other risks; as well as requiring long stays in hospital and long follow-up care.

The company is giving itself five-10 years to achieve the goal, which its own president has admitted is a “bit mad”.

Guirec Le Lous, Urgo president, told BFM Business: “Creating artificial skin is a real scientific and technological challenge. It’s a bit of a mad bet. When we speak to doctors, they say it’s the Holy Grail. 

“[But] we have always been convinced of the strength of public-private research partnerships.”

The project is being partly funded by the state, to the tune of €22.8 million, via la Banque Publique d’Investissement (BPI).

President Emmanuel Macron has shown support for the work, tweeting: “Our health sovereignty comes from our innovative companies.

"The Urgo group is proof, with the Genesis research project working on a world first: creating artificial skin with the support of the state, up to €22.8 million. A great source of pride!”

The total budget for the project is €100 million, and it will create 50-100 new jobs as researchers come on board.

The work is seen as particularly challenging, with some of the key difficulties including recreating the skin's waterproofing and elasticity.

The company is working with five expert public and private partners, including:

  • The French Muscular Dystrophy Association (AFM-Téléthon) laboratory
  • Blood transfusion experts l’Établissement Français du Sang
  • 3D design and engineering studio Dassault Systèmes
  • The Laboratory of Tissue Biology and Therapeutic Engineering (LBTI) at the University of Claude-Bernard in Lyon.

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