In life there may be no second acts, but in life sciences management, there apparently are: Lewis Gruber, the formerly embattled CEO of Hyseq has just launched Arryx, a new Chicago-based venture that will manufacture bioarrays.
Arryx’s first product, scheduled for a September debut, is a three-dimensional bioarray system for genomics and proteomics called BioRyx.
The technology underpinning the BioRyx system, invented by University of Chicago physics professor David Grier, uses a hologram to break a laser beam into multiple beamlets — a process named Holographic Optical Trapping (HOT). These mini beams are than aimed through a microscope to create optical traps or tweezers. Each trap is capable of grabbing a bead with DNA or protein attached. In each experiment, researchers can program the traps to grab specific beads, creating a customizable array of particular nucleotides or proteins.
Arryx’s first product, dubbed BioRyx 200, will have 200 beams forming an array. Future products, Gruber said, will come with additional beams, and will include a 10,000 beam system.
“There is no dynamically configurable bioarray, no one else can do it,” said Gruber. Bioarray “allows you to design your experiment using an array independently of a bioarray manufacturer and to add new elements during your experiment. You can make an array, bring in a sample, see where it binds, wash, add another sample, etc. In one experiment you can get a collection of positive probes.”
The technology, covered by two patents issued in 2000, also allows researchers to manipulate cells both externally and from the inside, Gruber said.
The technology “sounds new and interesting,” said David Sabatini, a fellow at MIT’s Whitehead Institute who recently published a Nature article on his own innovative cell-based microarray technology. “Theoretically, putting a couple of these in parallel you could have a very small, dense microarray.”
The system, which includes the laser, sample chambers, and software, will sell for approximately $100,000, said Gruber. A customer can either fit the system to an existing microscope or purchase one through Arryx.
Arryx, which has seven employees and raised $2.9 million in funding, including a “substantial” investment by Gruber, is searching for an instrument company to serve as a co-marketing partner for the BioRyx.
Gruber told BioArray News the company interested him because the BioRyx technology has a wide spectrum of applications in numerous industries besides biotech, including telecommunications and industrial optics.
“We don’t see our business as being only biotech or genomics,” said Gruber. “The fundamental nature of the technology is to manipulate at microscopic and nanoscopic levels. That’s what got me out of retirement.”
Gruber, a lawyer and a founder of Hyseq, served as CEO of the Sunnyvale, Calif., company between 1997 and May 2000, when he was replaced by Amgen founder George Rathman, who was then chairman of the company’s board of directors.
At the time Gruber stepped down, the company’s long-awaited HyChip biochip, which it had been developing with Applied Biosystems, lay dead in the water as a result of ongoing litigation with Affymetrix, and the company was running out of money. (Hyseq’s cash reserves dwindled to just $2.7 million by the end of 2000, when Rathman offered the company a $20 million emergency loan to resuscitate and reinvent itself as a biopharmaceutical company.)
Gruber, who initiated the patent infringement litigation against Affymetrix with two suits filed in 1997, was widely blamed for running the company aground with his litigious style of management.
In this new role, Gruber sees an opportunity to start fresh. In addition to the technological opportunities, it was the possibility of “doing things differently,” that drove Gruber to launch Arryx, he said. “I had not intended on being the president [of Hyseq] so I didn’t shape the structure. Here, I am starting out as president and shaping the structure as we go along, so hopefully it will be easier for me than at Hyseq.”