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Maven Biotech Undertakes Asset Sale to Deliver Label-free Detection Technology into 'Stronger Hands'

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After 13 years of developing its label-free detection and imaging technology, including the successful prototyping of products, Maven Biotechnologies is looking to sell its assets.

The Monrovia, Calif.-based company said this week that it has retained BioMed Transition Partners, a transaction advisory firm, to help it sell its intellectual property and products based on that IP. BioMed Transition is an affiliate of The Channel Group, an investment, development, and management firm.

Stephen Blose, a partner at Mill Valley, Calif.-based BioMed, told BioArray News that Maven's ownership decided to sell the privately held company's assets "in order to get it to the next stage."

He said that the company is looking to do an asset sale, rather than sell the whole company, because such transactions are "cleaner." In the event of an asset sale, Maven's ownership would retire the firm, he said.

Maven is seeking to put its products and IP "into stronger hands," said Blose, indicating larger instrument makers that offer tools for label-free detection. He named Thermo Fisher Scientific, Bio-Rad, Qiagen, Roche, and GE Healthcare as examples of "hybrid companies with a diagnostics arm," the kinds of firms that may be interested in taking Maven's technology to the research market, with the potential to move the technology into point-of-care testing applications in the future.

He also said that companies that sell systems for plate-based molecular imaging, such as Tecan, Berthold, or VWR International, might be interested in acquiring such a technology.

Founded in 2000, Maven has developed a real-time label-free imaging technology for measuring biomolecular interactions in a microarray or well-plate format. Called label-free internal reflection ellipsometry (LFIRE), the approach relies on ellipsometry, a technique that measures changes in the polarization of light upon reflection from the interface between materials. According to the company, the molecular entities assayed can be proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, small molecules such as drugs or steroids, or even whole cells.

Blose portrayed Maven's technology as an alternative to surface plasmon resonance-based imaging and detection, another optical detection process that occurs when a polarized light hits a prism covered by a thin metal layer. SPR is the basis for measurement systems sold by firms like GE's Biacore or Bio-Rad.

"This is a new technology that is unencumbered, works well, and has IP," he noted.

Maven had developed an instrument and consumables based on LFIRE, including its benchtop Polaron Reader system; its 16-well CELFIRE slides for live, cell-based assays; its 16-well Amine slides for protein measurements; and its LFIRE 96-well plates. The company has received more than a dozen US patents covering its approach, and in 2011 announced that it was collaborating with Sony DADC to manufacture consumables for its platform.

Using the Polaron Reader and the company's slides, users can image up to 250 microarray spots per well. It works by creating an evanescent electromagnetic field within each well. When biomolecules bind or cells move within the wells, they create refractive index changes that are then transduced into changes in the reflected beam's polarization. An image of the reflected beam is continuously projected onto a CCD camera. The image obtained is proportional to both the thickness and density of material at the surface, from small molecules to whole cells, and can be used to detect any kind of binding, according to the company's website.

According to Blose, the Polaron Reader costs between $50,000 and $60,000, well below average prices for surface plasmon resonance-based imagers, which can run in the "six-figure range." By making label-free detection and imaging technology available at such a price point, he said it would be possible to sell it to more researchers, who in turn could eventually move their applications into the diagnostics market.

Blose said that Maven's technology is "already receiving attention" from undisclosed parties, and that BioMed intends to meet with potential partners at the upcoming JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco in January, and again at the Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference, which will also be held in San Francisco, in February.

He said that while next-generation sequencing and digital PCR are technology areas that are receiving the most attention from companies at this time, newer analytical approaches such as Maven's occupy a close, second tier of market interest.

"I think that companies who want to get into label-free imaging and detection will want to take a look at this," he said.

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