BOSTON — The Lab Report section of BioArray News usually interviews individual researchers about the work they are doing with microarrays in their labs, either in clinical and research applications or improvements they are trying to make on existing technologies. This week, we take a look at a start-up firm, Wallingford, Conn.-based CyVera, which unveiled a prototype of its bead-based bioassay platform at IBC Life Sciences’ annual Chips to Hits conference here last week.
John Moon, CyVera’s chief technology officer, explained how the technology works in an interview with BioArray News at the conference. He displayed a small vial — roughly an inch long — that contained beads, which are little glass rods that have a holographically embedded code in them. The holographic image in each bead serves to diffract an incident laser beam into multiple diffracted components, which make up the optical signature of the bead code. The code can be read using a CCD camera or other imaging device.
“Because it’s a holographic code, the beads have to be oriented. And in any bead technology, you have to look at them one at a time,” Moon said. “So, what we came up with was a thing called a virtual cytometer.”
“The real claim to fame here is that we can put up to 24 digital bits of information in each one of these tiny glass rods. This really gives us an unlimited multiplexing capability, where we can have literally a code that goes up into the millions,” Moon said. “Obviously, not many people are interested in multiplexing a million things together, but at least you can do thousands very robustly, which is a definite market need right now.”
According to the firm, the platform is suited for use in gene expression, SNPs, and antibody/protein assays. But a key potential use is in molecular diagnostics.
“In the diagnostics space, we’re getting a lot of interest in the fact that since we have so many bits of code we can actually serialize our manufacturing and people can identify the date and time of the batch manufacturing of the particles,” Moon said. “So, we get all the benefits of the bead assays, such as the Luminex system, but we have a lot more multiplexing and a lot more traceability. That’s really our edge.”
Moon said that since the beads are made entirely of silica glass, “you can use all of the standard surface chemistries that are out there. We put either DNA or protein capture agents on them.”
The system takes particles and sucks them out of a 96-well plate and puts them on a “groove plate.” Then, a pulsating flow pushes them across the groove plate, and the beads line up with a high-packing density. “Now you basically have something like an array of particles that are lined up in a row in several different rows,” Moon explained. “Then we just scan back and forth with the laser. It’s a two-color system right now. The code is read out with a green laser, although it can be read out with any color you want. That allows us to do competitive gene expression assays.”
“But all of that happens behind the scenes. To a user, all they’re going to do is take a 96-well plate and put it in the machine and press a button,” he said.
He noted that the code in the particles has nothing to do with fluorescence. “So, you’re completely free with any kind of labeling technology or anything you’d like to do. There’s no interference at all,” Moon said. “The glass is non-fluorescent, too, so it doesn’t interfere with the biology.”
CyVera will be in beta testing early next year and expects a commercial launch in about nine months, according to CFO Terrence Brennan. The firm plans to partner, particularly on the content side, for nucleic acids, etc. “In time, we’ll build up our own library for different applications out there. But for now, we’ll partner. The instrument we’ll sell directly,” Brennan told BioArray News.
The firm was spun out of CIDRA, an industrial sensors manufacturer, in December 2003. “CyVera’s end markets were a little bit far afield from CIDRA’s end markets, so we decided to spin it out,” Brennan said.
When CyVera spun out, it took $5 million in cash, $2 million in assets, all the intellectual property, and a team of 18 employees from CIDRA. In return, CIDRA received equity but immediately issued that equity as a dividend to its shareholders. “We are completely separate from CIDRA,” Brennan said. “And right now we’re raising our Series B round.”
The firm hopes to raise somewhere in the area of $10 million in the round, but the details have not been set yet. “That first $5 million will probably carry us through mid-2005,” Brennan said.