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MaxCyte Explores Cell-Based Assay Market; Launches Platform for Cell-Based Screens

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MaxCyte, a clinical-stage cell-therapeutics shop based in Gaithersburg, Md., this week debuted its ITF inline transfection system, a validated platform for preparative transfection that is based on flow electroporation technology.
 
Although the platform was originally developed for the manufacture of cell-based therapies, the company is making the technology available for research purposes under a limited label license, a company official told CBA News in an interview this week. 
 
“The reason that our technology is useful for [cell-based compound screening] is that we can get basically any molecule into any cell,” said Anthony Recupero, MaxCyte’s vice president of business development.
 
He said that the system can transiently transfect stem cells, cell lines, or primary cells with molecules such as plasmid DNA, mRNA, siRNA, proteins, or protein complexes.  
 
This new application does not represent a shift in MaxCyte’s business strategy, as the company will continue to market its platform for cell-based therapeutic applications, said Recupero.
 
Instead, “it represents an opportunity to see how much business we can generate in the cell-based screening market,” he said. “We have had people ask us in the past about the use of our system for this application. We have thought about it and done some more research, and the timing seems to be right to try to launch the technology into this market.”
 
MaxCyte was founded in 1999 to commercialize flow electroporation technology exclusively from the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass. It started as a subsidiary of EntreMed in Rockville, Md., and spun out in 2002 as MaxCyte.
 
MaxCyte began to develop viral vectors and vaccines in the last few years, said Recupero. MaxCyte’s technology is used to manufacture viral vectors for gene therapies or certain types of vaccines based on viral vectors. “This part of our business also led us to think that the cell-based assay market is worth exploring,” Recupero said.
 

“Our experience with primary cells and the technology’s scalability is a great fit.”

MaxCyte management is seeing and hearing that more and more people are doing cell-based screens and there is an increasing desire to use primary cells, Recupero said. “We have a lot of experience with primary cells, because we use them in most of the therapeutic applications that we do.”
 
MaxCyte thought it would put the two together: “our experience with primary cells and the technology’s scalability is a great fit.”
 
MaxCyte has a number of leads already, and is going to meet with its first prospective undisclosed client next week, said Recupero. “I think we will be able to place some units fairly rapidly.”
 
He did not elaborate.
 
Maximizing the Possibilities
 
The ITF inline transfection system is scalable so “you can do early-stage R&D with one to two million cells,” said Recupero. However, the system has a flow-based configuration, and in that configuration “you can transfect up to 10 billion cells, [which] can be loaded in less than 30 minutes.”
 
Historically, people have often engineered cell lines to express the gene of interest, although that method requires a lot of time and money. According to Recupero, “If you want to screen 20 or 30 or even more genes, it is easier just to do transient expression or transfection to get the genes in, and then screen those cells,” rather than taking the time to fully engineer and develop a stable cell line that expresses one gene of interest.
 
With MaxCyte’s system, researchers can transfect 10 billion cells with the DNA plasmid expressing the gene of interest “within 30 minutes,” said Recupero. “You can then cryopreserve them or plate them out in culture dishes or multiwell plates and start doing screening assays.”
 
To adapt the technology for this new application, minor changes have had to be made to the software and the processing assemblies, Recupero said
 
MaxCyte’s competitors in this market include Amaxa, Cyntellect, Cellectricon, and Fujitsu Biosciences. “For this particular application, the real difference between our system and other electroporation systems is scalability,” Recupero said.
 
Recupero said that MaxCyte’s system can handle volumes of up to 100 mL.
 
According to MaxCyte’s website, the platform has greater than 90 percent viability and recovery in most cell lines, and greater than 90 percent cell-loading and transfection efficiency in most cell lines.
 
The company occupies a 14,000-square-feet facility, more than 50 percent of which is dedicated to research and development. The molecular/cell biology laboratory is approximately 5,000 square feet.
 
The company employs 15 to 20 people, and Recupero said he is “currently looking for a salesperson for the cell-based screening assays, because this is a little different business model for us.
 
“I think that the company will keep its primary focus on cell-based therapies, and will try to get more programs into the clinic,” he added. “We will also continue to license out our technology to other companies for the development and manufacture of their cell-based therapies.”
 
If the cell-based screening market pays out, MaxCyte would expand its presence there “in one way or another, [though] it may involve finding a partner to do that,” said Recupero.

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