Q-linea, a recent spin-out of Swedish biotechnology company Olink Bioscience, last week said its first corporate goal is to develop a flow cytometry-based field-deployable detection system for biodefense applications that will eventually work together with microarrays.
“One option we are discussing right now is to have Q-linea as an early-stage platform and then you could have detection performed on an array at a later stage,” CEO Jonas Jarvius told BioArray News this week.
“We see ourselves as the first line of detection, where we could offer one test for 10 or more pathogens and then follow that up with the array where we could do additional amplification for a more precise detection of pathogen sequences,” he said. “So, I see these as complementary technologies.”
Q-linea’s launch was announced earlier this month by Olink, itself a spin-out of Uppsala University. To date Olink, founded in 2004, has specialized in developing reagent kits for protein detection, nucleic-acid detection, nucleic-acid amplification, and the selective amplification of large sets of DNA fragments in a single reaction.
In recent years, however, the company began developing the technology behind Q-linea. According to a September 2006 Nature Methods paper co-authored by Jarvius, Q-linea’s technology enables biomolecule enumeration by converting nanometer-scale specific molecular recognition events mediated by rolling-circle amplification into fluorescent, micrometer-sized DNA molecules that are amenable to optical detection.
According to the paper, the approach, dubbed amplified single-molecule detection, allows the preservation of the discrete nature of the molecular population while allowing multiplex detection and more precise quantification of molecules over a dynamic range of seven orders of magnitude. [Jarvius J, et al. Digital quantification using amplified single-molecule detection. Nature Methods. 2006 Sep;3(9):725-7.]
Using the technique, Q-linea claims it is possible to detect and count infectious agents in air and water samples faster and more accurately than current methods. While Jarvius acknowledged that the single-molecule detection method could be used in areas as diverse as veterinary medicine and molecular diagnostics, the greatest interest in the technology came from the defense sector, prompting Q-linea to see that industry as a primary application in its development process.
“If we want to be really serious about taking this forward, it will require some capital, and we have created a good structure for taking on venture capital.”
“There has been a lot of interest from defense organizations, and the platform has been able to detect very low copies of infectious agent and that is a prime concern when you want to detect an infectious agent,” Olink CEO Björn Ekström told BioArray News this week.
“Q-linea is entertaining a few projects with defense, but its primary goal is to develop an instrument system that will be useful in biodefense applications,” he said. “That doesn’t exclude that the instrument would be useful in diagnostics or veterinary medicine, but that remains to be seen.”
Jarvius said Q-linea’s foremost goal is to make an advanced prototype of its detection system available for testing by the third quarter of 2009. He added that it will primarily be used in field tests in northern Sweden, but that Q-linea is also in preliminary discussions with a number of agencies and companies outside Sweden that have expressed an interest in the technology.
Like Ekström, Jarvius insisted that Q-linea has more technologies up its sleeve, but that the “one we are most actively pursuing is [the] amplified single molecule-detection platform” where the “instrumentation platform uses an advanced, line-based flow cytometer that uses threshold analysis to look at amplified molecular products.”
While the approach is lower-multiplex compared to array-based technologies in development at firms like CombiMatrix or TessArae, where array density capabilities are maximized to offer broad detection of infectious agents, one advantage Q-linea has is that it can read molecules from both protein and nucleic-acid samples.
“We convert protein signals or nucleic-acid signals to a unique reporting molecule that can be color-coded where one color represents a protein symbol while another color is a DNA signal, but the readout is the same,” he explained.
The approach appears similar to Seattle-based NanoString Technologies’ nCounter detection system, which uses color-coded tags to provide digital gene-expression data. Unlike Q-linea, though, NanoString has positioned its system for biomarker validation rather than use in biodefense (see BAN 2/19/2008).
In the long term, Q-linea’s business plan is to expand beyond biodefense applications into other areas. “In the first part we are focused on defense applications, but the instrument is very suitable for diagnostics for the future,” Jarvius said. “We have focused on defense where we have had a lot of interest so far,” he said. “Next year we will look at the research market and from there hopefully to go to diagnostics, but that will be a number of years to come.”
A potential advantage for Q-linea is Jarvius’s experience with microarrays: He has authored half a dozen array-related papers, mostly discussing the use of padlock probes in array-based detection as well as proximity ligation for the detection of proteins.
Olink CEO Ekström said that most of Q-linea’s start-up financing has come from a partnership with the Swedish Defense Research Institute in Umeå. He declined to name the other agencies that are working with Q-linea.
Olink holds a 40-percent share in Q-linea and will provide all the reagents for the system that Q-linea develops. Ekström said that Olink made the decision to separate Q-linea from Olink because instrumentation development is not core to Olink’s business strategy, but also because it will be easier to find funding for the company if Q-linea is independent from Olink.
“Currently the primary funding comes from a defense grant,” he said. “If we want to be really serious about taking this forward, it will require some capital, and we have created a good structure for taking on venture capital,” said Ekström. He noted that Olink is currently not VC-funded; the company has opted to bootstrap itself from its own revenues instead.
Jarvius declined to discuss the firm’s preliminary funding, but said that it is “well financed” to start. “Currently, the way things look, we will work with the government agency in the beginning,” he said. “That will be the starting point of the company. If we need to further finance it, we will.”
Q-lineacurrently employs Mats Nilsson, a co-founder of Olink and ParAllele Biosciences, as well as senior application scientists Jan Grawe and Johan Stenberg, and is also looking to grow. Jarvius said that by December Q-linea hopes to employ between eight and 10 people with “some new skills” to continue the development of the technology.