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Xagenic Raises $10M to Develop Biochip System for Infectious Disease Testing


By Justin Petrone

Xagenic, a privately held Toronto-based molecular diagnostics company, this week announced the close of a Series A financing totaling $10 million to ready for market its automated pathogen-detection platform for decentralized diagnostic testing.

Xagenic's system employs nanotechnology-based microelectrodes to detect nucleic acid analytes with a high degree of sensitivity and specificity.

Cofounder and Chief Technology Officer Shana Kelley told BioArray News this week that Xagenic will use the proceeds of its financing to develop refined prototypes of its platform, as well as the "manufactured units needed to run our tests, including those needed to run clinical trials." The firm is developing tests for a "variety of infectious diseases," she said, but did not elaborate.

Xagenic will have no shortage of competitors: Akonni Biosystems sells an array-based, point-of-care system called TruSentry that it claims enables the detection of infectious microorganisms and drug-resistant variants (BAN 5/10/2011); Boulder, Colo.-based InDevr is preparing a number of pathogen-detection tests on its point-of-care AmpliPhox system (BAN 8/17/2010); and Newcastle, UK-based QuantumDx is also developing a biochip-based POC device for HIV, tuberculosis, and warfarin sensitivity testing, to name a few (BAN 10/25/2011).

Xagenic was founded in 2010 based on technology developed by Kelley and colleagues at the University of Toronto. The firm received $2.2 million in seed funding at that time from a number of investors led by MaRS Innovation (BAN 10/19/2010).

Montreal-based venture capital investment firm CTI Life Sciences Fund and the Ontario Emerging Technologies Fund led the latest financing round, with "significant participation" by Qiagen. As part of the investment, Shermaine Tilley and Richard Meadows, both of CTI, will join Xagenic's board of directors.

Kelley said that Qiagen has shown interest in Xagenic's direct detection technology, and sees the opportunities for its "application to diagnostic challenges where rapid test turnaround is clinically advantageous."

Qiagen representatives did not return e-mails seeking comment in time for this publication.

Kelley said that Xagenic's as-yet-unnamed platform relies on a microchip that bears "nano-structured sensors that are very sensitive to specific nucleic acid analytes." It exhibits "high levels of performance when challenged with low analyte levels," and "provides results very quickly … within 15 [to] 20 minutes." She also said that once available, it should be "very cost-effective to use" as all of the detection is performed using electrochemistry and there are no enzymes or optical components in the system.

Kelley added that the absence of a PCR step in sample preparation separates Xagenic's technology from others on the market or in development. She previously described the firm's assay as a "one-step process, nothing analogous to the nucleic acid separation that other technologies require" (BAN 10/19/2010).

Kelley and fellow University of Toronto researchers have published articles in various journals over the past few years describing the application of the technology. A paper appearing in Analytical Chemistry last month described how the system could be integrated with a universal lysis method to detect bacteria in unpurified lysates in buffer and urine in less than 30 minutes. Another paper published in ACS Nano in April 2011 described sensors arrayed on two length scales: a 100-µm length scale "commensurable with the distance bacterial mRNA can travel in the 30-minute sample-to-answer duration … required in point-of-need diagnostic applications;" and a nanometer length scale "necessary for efficient target capture."

A 2009 paper in ACS Nano demonstrated the use of coarse photolithographic microfabrication to manufacture the multiplex sensing arrays. Using the chips, the authors analyzed a panel of mRNA samples for prostate cancer-related gene fusions.

Xagenic has said previously that it has no plans to create a research-grade instrument and is focused solely on the clinical market.

Kelley said that the company has achieved "key milestones" using the seed financing over the past two years. "We were able to validate all aspects of the technology, make basic prototypes demonstrating how the technology can be used, conduct important market research, and put together an outstanding team that will be Xagenic's core talent going forward," she said.

The company has not yet disclosed a timeline for the commercial launch of its platform.

IP Position

Kelley said that Xagenic has a "substantial IP portfolio" that covers its "sensors, sensing strategy, and other components that are critical for enabling direct detection of clinically relevant levels of biomolecules in unpurified samples."

Kelley currently serves as director of the division of biomolecular sciences at the University of Toronto and previously was on the faculty of Boston College. As such, Xagenic has licensed IP from both the University of Toronto and Boston College.

While at Boston College, Kelley co-founded diagnostic firm GeneOhm Sciences, which was acquired by Becton Dickinson in 2005.

Kelley is listed as an inventor on at least seven patents in the US Patent and Trademark Office database. Four describe electrochemical sensors using intercalative, redox-active moieties, two describe electrocatalytic nucleic acid hybridization detection, and one describes DNA-bridged carbon nanotube arrays.

Have topics you'd like to see covered inBioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.]com