In a vote of confidence for its holographic laser-steering technology, venture capitalists have invested almost $10 million in Chicago-based Arryx, the company said last week.
The latest round of financing is Arryx’s fourth and largest since it was founded in 2000. The company has raised a total of about $17 million in that time. Much of the early funding went towards the development and commercialization of its flagship product, the BioRyx 200 system.
The most recent round of financing, however, will go towards supporting specialized applications for the BioRyx, as well as towards finalizing and launching Arryx’s next-generation product, the CelRyx system.
CelRyx is based on the same technology that underlies the BioRyx 200: The ability to split a laser beam into several smaller beams, each of which can hold in place or move micro- or nanoscale particles. The most common phrase used to describe such technology is “optical tweezers,” although Arryx’s technology does more to organize particles in line with the lasers than actually grab single molecules and move them around.
And while the BioRyx is more of a research-grade toy that is capable of accomplishing all kinds of feats, the CelRyx is Arryx’s first shot at a product for industrial-scale biotechnology applications, such as rapid cell sorting or arraying biomolecules for miniature assays.
“The BioRyx 200 system [is] a smaller-scale research platform … that we’ll always have available, but it was never intended to be the high-volume, big money-maker for the company,” Lewis Gruber, Arryx’s president and CEO, told Inside Bioassays last week.
“Now that we’re getting into these new areas, we’re developing products that require, in some cases, FDA review,” he added. “But we’re also taking on high volumes of equipment production, so this is basically the first phase of that, and that’s why it’s a bigger round.”
In many ways, both the CelRyx and BioRyx are technologies without a home. There seems to be no doubt that the ability to manipulate micro- and nanoscale objects is attractive across many scientific fields. But as the overarching field of nanotechnology is still relatively nascent, new ideas for how the products can be used are being invented all the time — but not all of them may be commercially viable.
Two niche applications for the CelRyx that are commercially promising, however, involve cell sorting. The first is for gender-sorting sperm from cattle to facilitate artificial insemination programs. Arryx has in fact signed a deal for this application with the world’s largest supplier of cattle semen, although it has not yet disclosed the partner’s name.
The second application area, Gruber said, is the one for which FDA approval will eventually be sought: Separating cells in human and veterinary blood samples. Arryx inked a deal in October for this application with Braintree, Mass.-based Haemonetics, which manufactures blood-processing products.
As part of the deal, Haemonetics obtained exclusive worldwide licensing rights to the CelRyx technology. It also made a $5 million equity investment in Arryx, and will pay the company as much as $12.5 million in royalties if Arryx reaches “certain proof of concept, development, and regulatory deliverables,” Arryx said.
It is not completely clear what exact applications CelRyx will have in this area, but Gruber noted examples such as ß-cell isolation for pancreatic transplants and sorting cancer cells from bone marrow. In each of these cases, Arryx’s technology is an alternative to traditional centrifugation or, in some cases, flow cytometry.
“Our technology works really well for distinguishing clumps of cells from isolated cells or cells at different stages of development, so it can distinguish and sort islet cells, any other contaminants from the pancreas that you might not want to go into a transplant, and even sort the islet cells [by] different stages of development and help select the sorts of cells that would be ideal,” Gruber said.
“It provides … a step up over centrifugation techniques, and promises to be more gentle on cells,” he added. “This would avoid one of the big problems with [these] transplants, which has been damage to the donated cells that ultimately results in a very low yield. Of course, this could also apply to other types of tissues and cells.”
For gender-based cell sorting, flow cytometry is a competitive technology, but Gruber said that Arryx’s technology has 10 times higher throughput, with “greater increases expected.” And although centrifugation for this application has comparable throughput, Gruber said CelRyx is much more selective.
Another potential application of CelRyx that Gruber said he “is really high on” is in biological assays and sensing. In this case, he said, the CelRyx would not be used per se; rather, it would be used to manufacture micron-scale nanosensors or arrays for biological applications.
“It comes out of our ability to array small things,” Gruber said. “Essentially what we can do is position very small tests.”
As an example, Gruber said, Arryx could manufacture a material that allows for testing of 10,000 different substances in an area the size of a quarter, and “we have ways of separating those tests so you can have different conditions for different groups of them.”
Gruber said that what makes this application attractive is that it can be implemented using existing assay formats.
“The initial model is a bead model,” he said. “Any assay that can be put in a bead format, we can implement in this platform, and you don’t have to develop a new type of assay — you’ve just miniaturized in essence.”
Furthermore, he said, the miniature assays could provide a great deal of versatility. “It’s not limited to hybridization assays, or antigen-antibody assays,” he said. “It can be used to detect radioactive materials, or different chemical reactions … one could also do protein-antigen antibody assays, or lipid assays. Basically, you could do [a variety of] things to detect something on the same platform to determine if your results are correct.”
Gruber said the same types of assays could be implanted with cells, too. “Of course, they’re a little bit bigger than nanoscale, but we can array cells, and can even hold them in suspension,” he said.
The CelRyx is not technically due to hit the market until late next year, and even then, it would likely be as an application-specific instrument, such as the one planned with Haemonetics. In the meantime, Gruber said, Arryx is willing to listen to all ideas about how its technology might be implemented in the biotechnology arena.
“In terms of partnerships, if people are interested in pursuing any sort of application, we can talk with them,” he said. “A lot of what we’re doing with these other partners can apply to tailoring a platform for an application that another group would be interested in, so we’re open to discussion.”