Michael Boyce-Jacino has lofty goals for a company that recently doubled in size — to a grand total of four employees. But with a technology that came out of a well-funded DARPA project at Princeton University, an SBIR grant from NCI, and what he considers a clear market opportunity, Boyce-Jacino might just be onto something.
This particular something started out in the labs at Princeton, where a major DARPA project aimed to “develop technologies for imaging at the single-molecule level,” Boyce-Jacino says. Princeton’s Shirley Tilghman and a team of engineers tackled the project, trying to get nanofabricated devices to capture single molecules and then be able to image them. The team managed to build channels smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter. “When you do that, DNA actually becomes linear and stays linear in those channels,” Boyce-Jacino says. But because DNA itself is only about two nanometers in diameter, there’s plenty of room in the channels to add enzymes or other reagents to perform biochemical procedures. Han Cao, a Princeton research associate, used the technology as an opportunity for a spinout.
And that’s where Boyce-Jacino came in. A startup veteran who has also worked at major players like Beckman Coulter, he helped Cao work out a business plan and recruit a couple of other people for the company, BioNanomatrix.
Boyce-Jacino says the BioNanomatrix technology will enable whole-genome imaging. The platform — essentially a very small device that allows for highly parallel experiments involving a multitude of DNA reactions and imaging — can be used for a number of applications, he says. At Princeton, the tool was designed to look at protein-DNA binding, but that could conceivably be expanded to virtually any type of probe bound to DNA.
For the $264,000 SBIR grant the company was awarded from NCI, BioNanomatrix proposed to use its technology for “high-resolution structural analysis of DNA,” says Boyce-Jacino. The idea would be to take up to 1,000 single molecules from a biopsy sample, load each molecule into a separate nanochannel, and analyze them individually. “One of the concerns with single-molecule analysis is what if you pick the wrong cell,” Boyce-Jacino says of single-molecule technologies in general. Because his technology can multiplex with about 1,000 channels at a time, he believes that BioNanomatrix stands a better chance than competitors to really make inroads in cancer diagnostics that rely on genome organization analysis.
To that end, the company is working on collaborations with several groups on the clinical side to validate the technology with clinical samples. Right now, Boyce-Jacino is gearing up for the company’s roadshow for a series A funding round, which he’s pegging in the $5 million to $7 million range. That funding will allow for expansion of the BioNanomatrix team and help to get an instrument out the door, he says.