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NANOTECH: Miniature Protein Arrays Ramp up BioForce Business

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BioForce Nanosciences has seen quieter days. Founded by chief scientific officer Eric Henderson in 1994 primarily as an incubator for his nano-ideas, it has survived mainly on NIH Small Business Innovation Research grants and NSF grants. Now armed with its NanoArrayer, the company is proceeding with a soon-to-close Series A financing round and expects to open a second round later in the year. BioForce landed a collaboration with the joint NCI/FDA clinical proteomics program and is working through “a portfolio of about 10 different collaboration negotiations,” Henderson says.

The recent buzz stems from BioForce’s technology, which can fit 1,521 antibody spots within the impossibly small area of 85 square micrometers; the company also uses atomic force microscopy to detect binding interactions on the arrays. “It completely grabbed my attention,” says FDA’s Emanuel Petricoin, who began the NCI/FDA collaboration discussions with BioForce immediately after seeing Henderson present the company at a protein chip conference. Petricoin plans to use BioForce’s technology for protein profiling of human tissue biopsy samples and monitoring therapy during clinical trials.

The company, based in Ames, Iowa, has increased its headcount to 13, hiring four new people late this spring, including CEO Gary Alianell. Alianell, who spent 10 years at Beckman Instruments, comes from genomics startup EraGen Biosciences in Madison, Wis., where he was chief operating officer. Future hires are expected for business, science, and legal sides of the company. “We are going through an expansion phase,” Henderson says.

In this phase, BioForce plans to focus 80 percent of its resources on developing its arraying instrument and 20 percent on atomic force microscopy, due to the more defined market for the arrays. The company also has an ongoing relationship with Bothell, Wash.-based Prolinx, which hopes to expand its collaboration with BioForce. “They are taking the protein array field one step further,” says Karin Hughes, vice president of R&D at Prolinx. “As the protein array market continues to heat up, they will continue to heat up.”

— Marian Moser Jones

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