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Technology Mountain out of a Molecular Hill

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When her six-year-old son asked her, “What’s genomics?” Elizabeth Hill realized that immersed as she is in the industry, she’s just laying the foundation for a generation that will be even more wrapped up in genomics.

A chemist by training, Hill got in on the ground floor of biotech in the UK and has been involved for the past 15 years. She started off in instrumentation and then became a freelance consultant with the genomics experience that so few people had at the time. Even now, she says, “it’s still quite a fledgling industry.” She invested in various small enterprises and wound up getting involved in healthcare, where she became even more involved as a consultant. Then three years ago, Cambridge, UK-based technology consulting firm the Generics Group approached Hill about redefining its life sciences division. With the company located just a few miles from the Sanger Centre, Hill’s solution was almost a no-brainer: she recommended that Generics take its engineering experience and apply it to the genomics market.

Now, Hill is CEO of the Generics Group’s most recent spinout, 3D Molecular Sciences. The company’s earliest applications deal with gene expression and genotyping, and detection tools are an obvious next step. Its technology is based on an engineering idea of tagging molecules with native polymer particles encoded by shape. Each 100-micron particle has a set shape of bumps and indentations that can be read like a bar code — picture a Lego block, Hill says. These are attached to probes or other molecules on a four-inch wafer, which can hold nearly a million of them, for large-scale genomics or proteomics analysis. They also work in solution, which Hill compares to a 3D version of an Affy chip, since “we can actually put several probes onto just one barcode.”

Hill says pharmaceutical companies have already expressed interest in the technology, which could be more cost-efficient and scalable than what’s out there now. She and her team are working to raise funds and to expand the technology to accommodate 12-inch wafers for added throughput.

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