Aviva Biosciences, a small biochip startup whose operations stretch from Southern California to Beijing, China, has spun off a new company, Aviva Antibody, that will produce and market monoclonal antibodies for the biomedical research market, as well as for Aviva’s biochips.
The new spinoff, which will have its production facilities in China, comes out of Aviva scientist Weiping Yang’s work with monoclonal antibodies, which he began as a staff scientist at Stratagene in the mid-1990s.
“Dr. Yang has the ability to design clinical antibodies, and it is a business that has attracted outside investment,” said Brooks Ensign, director of business development for Aviva Biosciences. “This company can leverage Dr. Yang’s experience in phage display antibodies and Aviva’s relationships in China to produce monoclonal antibodies cost-effectively.”
Aviva believes the antibody spinoff will help it achieve its technological mission, which is to produce microfluidics chips that detect rare biological events.
“Rare event detection is essentially ‘needle-in the haystack’ detection, such as finding one cell out of a million or a billion,” Ensign said.
The applications of this technology include screening assays that can detect a single fetal cell in a mother’s bloodstream, “micrometastasis cancer cell detection,” — detection of a single metastatic cancer cell in a patient’s bloodstream; and ion channel drug screening.
The chips, which the company calls “multiple force active biochips,” separate out cells from samples by using electrophoretic, magnetic, acoustic, and thermal-gradient forces to move around miniscule amounts of cells and other biological materials on a chip.
Aviva scientists may incorporate monoclonal antibodies, which seek out very specific proteins, in the sequence of steps on this chip, in order to supplement the micro-channel-based selection methods of the chips, Ensign said. “Antibodies are important because, in a rare event situation where you are searching for one in a billion cells, you may need multiple selection methods, and monoclonal antibodies that recognize certain receptors on the cell are one method of selecting your target,” he said.
To develop this technology, Aviva has drawn top talent from a serious competitor in the biochip sector. Lei Wu, one of Aviva’s co-founders and its chief operating officer, was formerly a senior staff scientist at Nanogen, where he led the development team for the first NanoChips from 1995 to 1999. Jing Cheng, another co-founder and the company’s chief technical officer, was a principal investigator at Nanogen from 1996 to 1999, where he developed the first prototype sample-to-answer chip system for the company, according to Aviva.
In addition to this biochip brain trust, Aviva has a potentially cost-effective manufacturing center for its biochips and antibodies in China. “There’s a labor component to the production using this method, and we have found facilities in China that can produce them.”
The company also has a close relationship with Capital Biochip of Beijing. This venture, funded with $46.8 million by Chinese universities and outside investors, is gearing up to produce arrays cheaply in China. Capital Biochip has currently operational facilities, but is planning to build a 25,000 square meter R&D facility in Beijing.
Cheng, in addition to being chief technical officer of Aviva, is also an associate of Capital Biochip and a professor at Tsinghua University, one of the backers of Capital Biochip. Tsinghua also holds equity in Aviva.
Meanwhile, Aviva has raised $5 million in venture capital in an initial round led by the China Development Industrial Bank in Taiwan. The company is currently engaged in a second fundraising round, Ensign said.